Why Jets core wasn't ready upon relocating to Winnipeg

Marianne Helm

Individuals form a team, and these individuals weren't all ready in the summer of 2011.

There is no "I" in team, but there is in "individuals", and it takes a group of individuals to form a team. The interacting parts must click, like a well oiled machine, all at once.

Upon their arrival to Winnipeg in 2011, the roster appeared to have some nice pieces, we know the names, and all of them have since been designated and signed as "the core" to lucrative, long-term contracts, but like a green banana, evidently they were not yet ripe. I don't eat green bananas, myself, they're not ready to be eaten, so I temper my expectations, I have a little patience, and I wait until the banana is bright yellow, also known as ripe and perfect for eating.

Of course, it's easy to say this core has been together as a "team" for 3-4 years, and that is true. But more importantly, where were these core players as individuals over that time period? That is key when criticizing the players, forming expectations and looking for or expecting results.

Upon arriving in Winnipeg to begin the season in the Fall of 2011, Andrew Ladd had just completed his best season yet statistically, his first as a go-to top line LW, and believe it or not, he was still in the midst of developing his game. Nobody knew if his near 30 goal season was the exception or the rule.

Blake Wheeler, he didn't find his footing until well into the 2011-12 season, nearly 1/4 of the way, to be exact. Blake was still soul searching for his identity as an NHL'er.

Evander Kane, just having turned 20 a mere two months prior the season beginning, was young, developing, and still learning.

Zach Bogosian, much like Kane and Wheeler, was still young, learning and maturing as a player, he too was soul searching for the player he could be in the NHL. Zach was 20 years of age, and for a defenseman in the NHL, that is a baby.

Bryan Little said his last season in Atlanta was his most all-around to date at that point of his career, so he had really just begun to find and be comfortable in his role as an NHL'er, and what he could consistently offer as a top-line centre facing key match-ups.

Ondrej Pavelec was still very raw and not polished or perhaps ready to be an undisputed #1 goaltender. He may not be ready nor good enough now depending on which Jets fan you ask.

Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien were pretty set in stone, but even the man they call "Big Buff" had just finished his first full season as an NHL defenseman.

So, you see, as individuals, I am not sure this core group today was near ready to play with the big boys in the NHL. Hindsight is beautiful, indeed, and looking back, it's safe to say when this group arrived in Winnipeg, they were a green banana, not quite yet ripe. As individuals, most were still finding out for themselves who and what they were as NHL'ers. There are some things you can't rush, and development is one of them. Not every player is ready to be "the guy" at 20 or even 24 years of age. Winnipeg and these players have endured some growing pains over the last two years, but that's all apart of learning to walk before you can run. Unless, of course, you were blessed with being able to run before walking, in that case, my hat is off to you. I have a baby on the way in 3 months, care to give me some tips?

I just don't believe this core group was ready to be built around, nor ready for that next step, within the last two seasons as some were calling for bold roster moves here and there, or not liking that there was indeed an observation period in place. Kevin Cheveldayoff, within these last two seasons, has had to observe and analyze exactly what he had in each of these players before designating them as core players and signing them to long-term contracts. He knew what their contract status' were, he knew the potential they had, but he did not know all he needed to know.

How do you go about adding a supporting cast of complimentary players to a potential core that, in truth, you don't know is your core just yet? Does one not come before the other? Perhaps you would try framing your new home, dry-walling, installing windows (you get the point), before your foundation is dry and ready to be built upon? Me, I wouldn't do that. There is indeed a process to building a home correctly, and there is indeed a process to building and constructing an NHL team you plan and hope is a short and long-term success.

For me, last season (2012-2013), I expected that Jets team to challenge for a playoff spot, and they did just that to the bitter end. So, as far as expectations and results go, it's disappointing, but not dramatically discouraging when you consider where these players were individually upon arriving in Winnipeg, and the road that has brought them to where they are today. They're not a slam dunk for success just yet, not by any means, but we do know that this core is at least a playoff contender. Now they must become that legitimate, consistent, playoff team. Now it is time to place those expectations, call for those trades if you must, demand those results. But two years ago, or even in the Fall of 2012 (... or, January 2013, darn you lockout!) I'm just not sure those things were attainable or realistic to demand. After all, Kevin Cheveldayoff, as the builder of this home, has just now finished assembling it's foundation.

We can talk about what Rick Dudley would have done had he have been employed on as GM, but he wasn't, for better or worse, so I am opting to view this canvas in the mind of TNSE, Kevin Cheveldayoff, and their vision. That doesn't mean it is correct, it very well may not be. Maybe Cheveldayoff did indeed stall this group by not making the roster moves many say Rick Dudley could have made given his familiarity with these players. Could have, should have, would have. We'll never know.

As for the here and now, and the benefit of hindsight, I think as a fan I can see where Kevin Cheveldayoff and co. are coming from with their approach. Now, the time has come for those individuals to form together as a team, a foundation, and endure success.

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