Fuelled by Evaluation: How the Winnipeg Jets move forward past a disappointing 2013-14 season

You are still evaluating your team after two years Kevin? - Bruce Bennett

As a pre-professional teacher, I have been taught that constant evaluation is something that is necessary, but it is the action that is taken following this evaluation that is most important.

Evaluation. That word may be the most reviled word to Winnipeg Jets fans. Evaluation is not a bad thing, in fact it is a very important tool in judging where the team stands at any one time. In education there are two types of evaluation: formative, which is not marks but to be able to understand what students are struggling with and allow for reinforcement or re-teaching. This is the type of evaluation I will focus on when it comes to the Jets. The second type of evaluation is summative: the final evaluation which allows for the students knowledge to be tested and for conclusions to be drawn on how the student has learned all that they were supposed to learn.

How does this apply to the Jets?

Very simply, as a General Manager of a National Hockey League team Kevin Cheveldayoff should be constantly evaluating his team in a formative way, assessing them as he sees fit. A one game sample size is too small, so five or ten game segments would be better. At the trade deadline, all those formative assessments need to be combined to decide to either buy, sell, or stand pat. If game segments have more negative trends than positive, selling should be the only option. If the game segments are the opposite, then buying should be entertained. Of course the Trade Deadline is best entered with a plan and a back up plan or two incase the first plan does not work.

At the end of the season a second summative assessment should take place and another plan should be put into action for the summer. Weaknesses that have been noted throughout the season should be seen as key fixes that need multiple, attainable solutions to be addressed. Unlike the Trade Deadline, standing pat over the summer is not an acceptable move, but standing pat during the first week of free agency is as the best bargain signings are usually made after the first day.

What about individual player evaluation?

This is a much more difficult part of evaluation than team evaluation because personal biases can enter the fray, as can the conscious decision to accept a players limitations and reward them for playing within them. This is what happened on 24/7 when Dan Bylsma gave a less skilled player a higher mark out of 5 because the player fought. I have marked students more leniently when I know that they are a weaker students. How can this problem be best combated? I believe that a objective rubric that looks at skills that help a team win: controlled zone entries and exits, Corsi for and against etc. These objective stats would allow for coaches to see if players were helping or hindering their team and allow them to see what the best line up for their team would be, and ice it unless injuries prevented that. The objectiveness of this style or evaluation would remove any and all ability to give a player a higher score thanks to a fight.

How does this affect the team long term?

In the case of the Jets, constant evaluation within the season, especially after the playoff picture is closed. This is the time to begin to evaluate the team for the summer, figure out who should return and who should be let go. Evaluating players like Michael Hutchinson, Eric O'Dell and Paul Postma now would allow for a clearer (though still foggy) picture of the players the Jets may have in the lineup next season. If Al Montoya gets injured while Ondrej Pavelec is already out, the Jets are left with a goalie they know nothing about. There were games where starting Hutchinson would have been an effective option; instead the Jets decided to run with the veteran goalie for a long period of time, playing him in every game including back to backs. This playing streak has included a terrible win-loss record to boot. So that begs the question;

What are the Jets evaluating anyways?

No one really knows. There is confusion about who the core is and if they are truly focused on building long term success while they are constantly chasing the next win or two. Instead of seeing what they have for the future, the Jets insist on playing weaker known quantities like Jim Slater over unknown, but potentially stronger quantities like the aforementioned O'Dell.

It is not only player usage that seems to spit in the face of reason with regards to the evaluation mantra, but also the entire lack of anything from the front office after three years. I read somewhere that before acquiring a team, the Jets evaluated both the Phoenix Coyotes and the Atlanta Thrashers to find the better team for the now. The evaluation started before Chevaldayoff came aboard. The team was not blindly pursued and acquired, True North Sports and Entertainment knew what they were buying when they bought the Atlanta Thrashers and yet years of evaluation has been what has followed. Almost right after buying the team and bringing it to Winnipeg the coaching staff was fired as was the GM. Both those staffs had made changes in the right direction for Atlanta or so it seemed, but they were not given any more time to see their vision and plan through.

What is the end game?

Who knows really. This team has given very few clues into how they envision the team to look. All we hear about is the draft and how they need to draft well, but then the actions from the front office is to hold onto upcoming UFAs like it is going out of style. This runs counter-intuitive to the idea of building the team with young players and prospects. The Jets regularly play bad veterans over young players, whose performance may be as bad or worse than the veterans, but no one knows because the younger players do not play regularly. It took at least four games for Eric O'Dell to enter the lineup following Mark Scheifele's knee injury. What do I think the end game is? A mediocre to bad team with a middling line up if smart changes are not made this offseason. If the "evaluation" leads to real, needed changes this offseason, then I *think* this team can become something.

But nothing is certain, the NHL is a fickle league and maybe nothing will happen at all.

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