The holiday season is upon us and there is no better time for some reflection. The Jets are nearing the midway point of their season which has featured many ups and downs. Everybody was optimistic heading into a season that would feature a slim Dustin Byfuglien, an audition for Winnipeg Jets draft picks Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele, a locked in "core" group of players, as well as a pair of key off-season additions in Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi. There was the other portion of the Jets fan base that was nervous. The future was somewhat hazy. The team was heading out into the great unknown; the big, mean Western Conference. Re-alignment had taken the Jets out of the cushy Southeast Division and mixed them into the newly formed Central Division with some of the NHL’s best clubs. Everybody had their own opinions as to what the future held, but nobody truly knew what was in store.
This season has been tumultuous at best. There have been some highs, albeit tempered, and there have been some real lows. The Jets currently sit 8 points out of a wild card spot in the west. The 8 points aren’t the frustrating part for the fans though, the frustrating part is the fact that the Jets have been wildly inconsistent and played awful against teams that they "should" beat. This season has now featured 6 losses against teams that currently sit below them in the standings of which 4 of them were in regulation. The worst part is that those losses were by a combined 26-13. Considering that 2 of those losses were in extra time by a single goal, that is awful. The 4 regulation losses (Nashville, Florida, Buffalo, Edmonton) were by a combined 18-7.
The Jets move into the Central division has been horrible for them. A lot has been made about the move from the awful Southeast to the Central and I always thought it was a little overblown, but it has been bad. In their first season, the Jets were able to 14-6-4 against division opponents. Most of the success that the team had was built on those games. Last year, they were able to go a slightly more pedestrian 10-8-0 against the Southeast. This year it is bleak. The Jets are currently 3-11-3 against Central opponents. To make matters even worse, 2 of those 3 wins happened in a shootout. That means that they have given up 31 of a potential 34 points to their divisional competition. They have earned 9 of a potential 34 points. That is a differential of 22 points. Combine that 22 point differential against the Central with the 10 points that they have left on the table against inferior teams and I will tell you exactly why the Jets sit 8 points out of a playoff spot. From where I sit, they are lucky it is only 8.
The fact that this year has gone so poorly for the Jets has many fans looking one direction and that’s forward. We hear a lot about the "5-year plan". I’ve looked and looked for any sort of official mention of this plan but I can’t find anything. That isn’t much of a surprise considering True North Sports and Entertainment rarely officially mentions anything. This leads me to believe that this plan is more of an unofficial plan based on logic, talking heads and necessity.
We are now in year three of "The Plan". By all appearances, the broad view of "The Plan" is that the Jets want to build slowly through the draft and build a deep and young home grown team centred around a veteran core. OK, there is no reason to hate that plan. Some of the most successful franchises in professional sports are built on that plan. If that is "The Plan", then everything that the Jets have done to this point makes sense with one glaring exception. If youth, drafting, and development is the cog, then why give up a high 2nd round draft pick to acquire an expiring contract in Devin Setoguchi? In all reality, at the end of the 5 years, Devin Setoguchi will be elsewhere and that 2nd round pick will be in the Minnesota Wild organization. I understand that the Jets needed NHL worthy players to be inserted into the line-up for the time being, but did they really need to compromise "The Plan" to get there? I think this was a mistake and the only way that Chevy can salvage this is cutting his losses at the deadline and dealing Setoguchi for draft assets. If he could get a high second it would be a coup, but it will likely be a late second or third. The idea of obtaining stop-gap players to fill the void until prospects are ready is a good one, but it makes more sense when it is done by signing older free agents to fill the gap like the Jets did with Jokinen.
Other aspects of "The Plan" are looking good so far. Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba look they are going to be very good NHLers and maybe better. Players like JC Lipon, Adam Lowry, Eric O`Dell, Brenden Kichton, Zach Redmond, and Ben Chiarot have formed a good core of developing players within the AHL system. The Jets have the likes of Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Jimmy Lodge, Scott Kosmachuk, Jan Kostalek, Eric Comrie and Andrew Copp thriving in junior hockey and the NCAA. This list didn’t exist when the team left Atlanta with the exception of O’Dell, Redmond and Chiarot. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has formed a nice young group waiting in the wings and that group will only grow looking forward. It is worth noting that some of these players will never reach their potential and will eventually end up toiling away in the German Elite League or the AHL, but there really is no way to project that.
I would love nothing more than to have a sit down with Cheveldayoff and pick his brain. I would love to hear him speak honestly about what his plan is moving forward. The target playoff year for this unofficial "Plan" is 2015-16. Is Claude Noel part of the plan? I would guess no. Is Alex Burmistrov part of the plan? If Noel isn’t part of the plan then I would guess that Burmistrov is. Do the Jets intend on taking a serious run at any big name free agent? Probably not. The Jets are more than likely out of the playoff race. Right now, it would seem that they have three players that are considered "tradable assests" on expiring contracts. Those would be Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi, and Mark Stuart. With the cap being so low this year, it will prove tough to move any high money assets. Do the Jets intend on trying to move any of these players at the deadline or are they wanting to bring them back next year? I know that Chevy will never answer any of these questions unless Mark Chipman is the one asking them, but I would love to ask them.
The time period from the trade deadline this season through training camp next season is going to prove critical in "The Plan". The players that are drafted in the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft are likely the last group of Jets’ draft picks to have a hope of cracking the 2015-16 team. Any free agents signed this off-season will likely be under contract through the 15-16 season. The rising cap will afford the Jets the option of trying to deal members of "The Atlanta Five" while they still hold some good value. The team that takes the ice to open the 14-15 season will likely form the majority of the core group for the target year. The salary cap is going to be shooting up over the next three years. The Jets are looking at $23.7 in space next year with Michael Frolik being the only big money player likely to be retained. There will be options to retain players and bring in players.
In reality, we are all just people hiding behind a keyboard with ideas in our heads. None of us are in any position to be able to make any moves. All we can do is sit here and speculate while we cheer for the team to succeed or fail. For now though, I will have fun with speculation. Here is a vague look at how I expect "The Plan" looks inside the head of Kevin Cheveldayoff. This could very well be the roster as the Winnipeg Jets begin the 2015-16 NHL season and as they prepare to bring the franchise’s plan to fruition and take their first run at the Stanley Cup. Will it be good enough? A lot of development needs to happen for that to be the case.
2015-16 Winnipeg Jets
|Evander Kane||Mark Scheifele||Acquisition|
|Andrew Ladd||Bryan Little||Blake Wheeler|
|Adam Lowry||Alexander Burmistrov||Michael Frolik|
|Acquisition||Eric O'Dell||JC Lipon|
|Nicolas Petan||Scott Kosmachuk|
|Jacob Trouba||Dustin Byfuglien|
|Zach Bogosian||Josh Morrissey|
|Brenden Kichton||Ben Chiarot|
|Zach Redmond||Grant Clitsome|
|Head Coach:||Dale Hawerchuk|
With a glut of undersized puck moving defencemen coming up, I don’t think there will be space on this team for a Tobias Enstrom and I could see the Jets moving on from him following next season. I see Burmistrov coming back after next season and being more than happy to play with a more offensively talented third line but that will only happen if Noel is gone. If Burmistrov does not come back then that role could be able to be filled by a then 20 year old Nic Petan. The Jets will need to find a way to add a legitimate top line Right Winger. There is nobody in the system that should be able to play top-6 RW in 2 years so I think it will need to happen from outside of the club. It could happen through moving a piece like Enstrom but that will more than likely net prospects or picks. I’m looking at a RW Free Agent class that is headlined by Bobby Ryan and Patrick Kane. Although it is a MASSIVE pipe dream, the Jets will have the cap space to make a player like this a lucrative offer if they so choose. They will also need to add a 4th line LW that is not James Wright, Eric Tangradi, or Anthony Peluso. Somebody could emerge within the organization but a free agent patch job is also rather easy for a 4th line winger. And I know it may be tough to watch for many people who can see beyond the TSN Highlight of the Night, but Pavelec will probably remain here until his contract expires or until Eric Comrie can steal his job.
The next 2 years will probably be an exercise in patience for Jets fans. Barring any drastic changes, which one cannot expect from TNSE, the Jets will be a pretty weak team for the next year and a half. They will be a tough team to cheer for at times, but they say that they have a plan. All we can do is wait and see if they are telling the fans the truth. All that I know is that if this team is at the same place after 5 years as it will be after 3 then #whatdidchevydotoday better be "Handed out resumes".