It's about time that the Winnipeg Jets took a beating in the press. Unfortunately it looks like the blame failed to reach all of the areas that it needed to, but at least we're headed in the right direction.
Gary Lawless penned an interesting and perhaps enlightening article on Saturday in the Winnipeg Free Press that was titled "Jets' clique too soft on themselves" in which he lit up the "Atlanta Association". I won't recap the article as you can read it yourself and draw your own conclusions, but I found it incredibly interesting that the article focused on the five players that it did. Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom were the players that Lawless took issue with, which is very interesting as an argument could be made that they're our best five players.
Curiously omitted from the "Atlanta Association"? Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec. You know, three of the major pieces that Chevy has signed since in Winnipeg that were actual draft picks by the Thrashers and spent multiple seasons in Atlanta. As for Wheeler, he showed up at the trade-deadline in the final year in Atlanta and only played 23 games there, while Ladd and Byfuglien played one year as they both brought their Stanley Cup rings with them from the Blackhawks the summer prior after being acquired in off-season deals. Not exactly long-term residents in "Hotlanta".
Perhaps even more curious was the statement that Mark Stuart and Olli Jokinen, who both wear "A's" on their chests, are not high enough in the dressing room pecking order for their voices to be heard. How much higher up do they need to be to effect change? Just a reminder in case you've forgotten, but Stuart arrived in Atlanta in the same deal as Wheeler did. Why isn't he in the "association"? Perhaps it's because they're both unrestricted free-agents this coming summer and the core don't think they'll be back? What is wrong with this leadership group if the guys with A's don't curry favour in the room?
However, the above comments aren't the point of my piece today. I do agree with much of it. There's a reason that I've been using the #fuelledbythrashers hashtag on Twitter for a while now and have been calling for one or more of the core members to be traded for months and months and months. It's because I didn't think that this core group of players was good enough to carry the waiver-wire pickups and replacement level players that they have to play with, and I still don't.
But my main gripe with Lawless' piece is that it didn't go far enough. It didn't mention the architect of the Jets, their general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, as a reason for the blame. Oh wait, he was mentioned once, in this cryptic line that leaves much to the imagination:
Last season, Winnipeg fans watched Byfuglien's weight balloon before their very eyes. It wasn't until coach Claude Noel yanked GM Kevin Cheveldayoff into the fray anything changed. The players just repeated their mantra of what a "special talent" Byfgulien is.
What in the heck does that mean? Lots could be read into this incredibly vague statement, but perhaps that is for another day.
At no other point in Lawless' article did our beloved GM have one ill word uttered about him and his #5yearplan. Or is it a #7yearplan? I've lost track. The guy who backed the money truck onto the driveways of four of the "association" members (as he inherited Buff's contract) and locked them up with various no-trade/no-move clauses didn't get any heat for keeping them together? The guy who has given these guys nobody to play with other than a bunch of reclamation projects (ie. waiver wire pickups/draft busts) and Michael Frolik? Again, "Teflon" Chevy was given a free pass.
Is this the first season that someone noticed has this "cliquey" nature in the dressing room? Did anybody have their finger on the pulse of this team? What was the point of Chevy's evaluation year(s) if he didn't discover anything? Wasn't True North supposed to change the culture of this group of players after they arrived here? I have a hard time believing that this is something new to this squad, but Chevy still handed Wheeler, Little and Toby (as well as Bogo) blank cheques to fill in themselves within the past year and a half. Perhaps Alexander Burmistrov is no longer here because he couldn't buy his membership into the "association". Or Kyle Wellwood. Or Mike Santorelli (and his 21 points for the Canucks so far this season). I wonder if Mark Scheifele (who lives with James Wright) and/or Jacob Trouba (who lives with Zach Bogosian) will be able to gain entry...
Look, I'm no fan of the work Chevy has done, and as such I'll probably take a lot of heat for writing this today. But I have a hard time putting all of this on the players like Lawless did, as the "Atlanta Association" are talented hockey players on a team sorely lacking it. I do applaud Gary's decision to take the kid gloves off though and begin to ask some hard questions about a team that clearly doesn't have it. However, in my humble opinion I think it's tough to blame the players involved in this "country club" and not at least glance up at the press box and look at the guy in the suit who kept them all together and surrounded them with next to nobody.
Now, I get that many will read this and simply say "there goes arby again, being all negative and stuff" and that "the future is bright blah blah blah" and whatever else those with the glass half-full will have to say. Well, to that I would suggest that a negative truth is still a truth, and to that end I believe this to be true and I can guarantee that I'm not the only one. And is the future really that bright if this type of "association" exists, especially if the bulk of this crew are here for the next half-decade?
Why is it that we're nearly two-and-a-half years into the Jets 2.0 and we're still talking about Atlanta? Buff, Stuart and Chris Thorburn are the only contracts left that Chevy didn't sign, and the latter two of the three expire this summer. This is Chevy's team. And it's about time that he starts answering for these problems that appear to be all over this organization, because I'm sorry but Atlanta has nothing to do with this mess anymore. This belongs on the suit upstairs.
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