First of all I know what you’re thinking and it’s been said like a fragile mantra by Jets fans for a little over two weeks: it’s just the preseason. I’m in my happy place. It’s just the preseason. Well as usual Jets fans you’re right even when you’re wrong. It’s just the preseason, but there’s a dark and uneasy feeling surrounding the Winnipeg Jets where there should be optimism at the chance to start the season tied for first place overall. Now don’t get me wrong, I usually view most things through Jets coloured glasses as the stats monkeys at AIH will happily testify to, but even so, it’s hard to miss the sense that the Jets aren't really in that "hit the ground running" mode that coach Noel promised us at the beginning of training camp.
Let’s rewind to the Kraft Hockeyville game, a game that started this swirling pit of speculation regarding the illusive second line. That day saw the formation of the newly minted KSS line of Kane, Scheifele, and Setoguchi or if you team it up with Byfuglien on defence, the hard to spell line. As the game wore on we saw the tiniest spark of something that had been sorely lacking on the Jets second line for, well about 30 years, chemistry. Kane, a bonafide goal scorer finally had a centre who could skate with him in Shceifele and the young fifty five had the option of making the play to not only Kane, but Setoguchi who also seemed to have a knack for finding open ice. It seemed like a dream come true, finally the great hope of Winnipeg hockey fans might actually be realized, the nirvana of secondary scoring!
So of course it had to be blown up immediately.
For all the lip service and flim flamery devoted to the word chemistry before the opening of the pre-season there didn't seem to be very much compulsion to foster it. In the six games thereafter the infamous KSS line was never once reunited, and because of that has never had the opportunity to mesh with the top scoring line of Ladd, Little and Wheeler. Instead Scheifele has taken a tour of the bottom lines; Kane has been saddled with old man Jokinen, while Setoguchi has been all over the map. I get the fact that you need to try things out before the start of the big show, but time’s running out to get the A team into game shape. Chemistry doesn't happen by mixing parts together that don’t work, it’s done by mixing complementary pieces and waiting for them to react. So far they simply haven’t gotten the chance. Saskatoon is the last chance to get this process underway before points are at stake and in my opinion 20 minutes on prairie ice will beat a few days in Banff for team building.
So as the Jets Airbus A319 comes in for a landing at Saskatoon International not only are there questions surrounding team chemistry ,the fate of Mark Scheifele and the KSS line, but also the curious case of James Wright has caught the attention of the faithful . Now let me start with the standard James Wright disclaimer: I like Wright, he’s a good skater, and has a fearless work ethic. The problem with Wright is he has hands of stone syndrome, which means he can’t bury his chances, which means he’s a fourth line guy at best. As a Jets fan you have to ask why are we watching Scheifele and other top prospects relegated to hard minutes on the bottom lines, while Wright is getting big minutes on plumb assignments. Now if this was a single game situation you could write it off as giving the guy a good second look, but it’s been over the course of several games. What does the coaching staff see in Wright that isn't on full display at game time? Can they somehow coach away the concrete gloves? James Wright has had his shot and now its time to get on with job of letting the top players be the top players and let the role players find their role. The game day line up in Saskatoon needs to resemble what we’re going to see on game day in Edmonton or all the talk of chemistry and team building is nothing more than a lingering disservice to the fans that follow this hockey club.
As game day approaches in Saskatoon, October 1 also looms like a shadow over Jets nation. Is there enough time to find the team that will take us to the promise land? Is coach Noel the man for the Job? Will Scheifelle and Trouba live up to almost insurmountable expectations? Can Pavelec put this team on his shoulders and find the consistency that has always eluded him? What was supposed to be the first normal training camp and pre-season for the Jets has become the one that’s generated the most questions and left us with the fewest answers. Knowing that the games will soon start to count has generated a growing sense of unease among fans. Do we have reason to worry?
We’ll find out in Edmonton.