The Winnipeg Jets are Stuck in the "Loser-Zone"

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets have finished outside of both the playoff-picture and the top-5 draft pick areas in each of the following four seasons. They are in the "Loser-Zone".

After taking a few weeks to let the latest Winnipeg Jets disappointment of a season percolate in my mind, I'm ready to sit down and pound out some critical pieces on the current state of this franchise.

Let's begin by looking at the results of the Jets over the past few seasons, including their final season in Atlanta, and the corresponding draft positions heading into the following summers:

Season Team DIV GP W L OTL SOL PTS GF GA Conference Rank Draft Position
10-11 ATL SE 82 34 36 5 7 80 223 269 12th (East)
7th
11-12 WPG SE 82 37 35 6 4 84 225 246 T-10th (East)
9th
12-13 WPG SE 48 24 21 0 3 51 128 144 9th (East)
13th
13-14 WPG CEN 82 37 35 4 6 84 227 237 11th (West)
9th

Now this chart is disappointing, but it's not just because the #ThrashJets have continually missed the playoffs. It's because they keep JUST MISSING the playoffs. The Jets don't suck bad enough to be in the running for a top-5 pick, but they're clearly not good enough to make the playoffs either. They're stuck in no-man's land, or what I refer to as the "loser-zone".

The Jets don't suck bad enough to be in the running for a top-5 pick, but they're clearly not good enough to make the playoffs either.

So what is this "loser-zone"? In the opinion of this blogger, it's the place where teams continually draft from outside of the top-5 while never making the playoffs. In other words, from the 6th-13th spot, or the exact range that Kevin Cheveldayoff has drafted in since the Jets 2.0 have been back.

Why outside of the top-5? Jonathan Willis wrote an excellent piece at CanucksArmy.com a few years back called "The Value of An NHL Draft Pick" in which a few articles were dissected and recapped.  Unfortunately a few of the articles have stopped linking with time, but from them Willis drew the following two conclusions:

  • There's a huge gap between a top-three selection and a four through six selection, which is followed by another gap between the sixth spot and the rest of the draft.
  • The first few picks in the draft - especially those in the top five - are vastly superior to other picks, including picks later in the first round.

and made the following argument of his own:

Get top-five picks. The top picks in the first round are very, very valuable. Teams moving up into this range cheaply are getting real value.

Now, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that the cream of the draft crop rises to the top. And there should be no doubt that "generational talent", as Scott Cullen called it in his draft pick piece cited by Willis, is way more likely to be found atop of the draft. And sure, while even some top picks go bust, the professionals in charge saw enough to take them where they did, and way more hits have happened at the top of the draft than misses.

Don't believe me? Well, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and John Tavares were all drafted inside of the top-3 of drafts from 2004-2010. You may have heard of a few of them. And don't look now, but some of the recent top-3 guys like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon are well on their way.  Do you think the Blackhawks, Penguins and Avalanche are pretty happy to have those pairs?

Speaking of the Hawks, Chevy spent time in that organization and should obviously know firsthand the benefit of drafting superstars like Toews and Kane.  Well, Mark Spector of Sportsnet got an exclusive interview with Chevy that many local media members would've loved to have gotten but didn't (which in itself is interesting), and gave this eye-opening quote:

"I was a Chicago resident when the Blackhawks were on their downside for many, many, many years. Then I was fortunate to be part of the Chicago group who succeeded. The 'now' is very good in Chicago. The 'now' back in the days when they were drafting first, second and third? It wasn't very good.

"But the core of fans that stuck with them, if you asked them now, I betcha they'd say it was worth it."

Ha ha. That's fun. So Chevy is well aware that "drafting first, second and third" has helped make it "worth it" for the Hawks and their fans as they have premier talent in Toews and Kane to build around? Huh. It's almost like "drafting and developing" perennial all-stars helped kick-start the Hawks into the powerhouse that they are today.

I've since realized that maybe I've had it all wrong engaging in the "Scheifele vs. Couturier" and "Trouba vs. Forsberg" debates that I've had over the years, as all of the players in and around the 6th-13th spots are effectively interchangeable. But it's the players at the top of the drafts that are the players who have the better chance of being superstars or even "generational talent". Let's have a look:

Position 2011 2012 2013rg
1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (EDM) Nail Yakupov (EDM) Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
2 Gabriel Landeskog (COL) Ryan Murray (CBJ) Aleksander Barkov (FLA)
3 Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) Alex Galchenyuk (MTL) Jonathan Drouin (TBL)
4 Adam Larsson (NJD) Griffin Reinhart (NYI) Seth Jones (NAS)
5 Ryan Strome (NYI) Morgan Rielly (TOR) Elias Lindholm (CAR)
WPG Mark Scheifele (7th Overall) Jacob Trouba (9th Overall) Josh Morrissey (13th Overall)

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the Jets may have won the lottery with their Jacob Trouba pick at 9th overall in 2012 (though it is still pretty early to tell), but winning the lottery is against the odds and isn't sound financial advice to give either (h/t to Garret for this paraphrase). By all accounts, it sounds like the Jets would've taken Trouba in the top-3 anyways so they were big-time lucky that he fell to them. But while Scheifele and Morrissey are likely going to be "nice" players, don't you think the Jets would look a little bit better going forward with a trio of Trouba, Landeskog and MacKinnon? I sure do.

Will the Jets get a good player in the 9th spot this summer? Likely. Will the other teams in the 6-13 slots get good players too? Also likely. But the odds are much better that the teams in the top-5 will find that superstar or "generational talent" that the Jets desperately need.

I've advocated for years that the Jets either buy or sell at each deadline, as the status quo has them stuck in the "loser-zone" that we've all become accustomed to. Would selling some UFAs for even more draft pickshave helped "tank" a little bit to move the Jets up the draft board? Probably. Would buying some cheap veteran talent have snuck the team into the playoffs and given the Jets players some much needed playoff experience? Maybe. But standing still did neither, and that's a fact that cannot be argued.

Winnipeg won their last two games of the season and those four points in the standings dropped the Jets three draft positions. Will the Jets get a good player in the 9th spot this summer? Likely. Will the other teams in the 6-13 slots get good players too? Also likely. But the odds are much better that the teams in the top-5 will find that superstar or "generational talent" that the Jets desperately need.

Wouldn't having had a few top-5 selections over the past couple of years made the "draft and develop" model a whole lot easier? Because it seems to me that trying to out-draft 29 other teams, including multiple teams that draft ahead of you every year, would be pretty difficult. I mean, the Jets have missed the playoffs each year and we've cheered for some pretty lousy teams anyways. Oh well. Maybe Kevin "#tankcommander" Cheveldayoff named Ondrej Pavelec the starting goalie next year so that he could ensure the "Can't Save It for McDavid" campaign would be alive and well moving forward...

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