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Negativity vs Realism: The Winnipeg Jets Conundrum

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The Jets have not been good relative to other teams in the league for quite some time now. They very likely won't be again this year. Is that a negative comment or a realistic one? Depends on your perception, I guess.

Marianne Helm

Pop-quiz:  The Winnipeg Jets are __________:

a) a good team relative to the Central Division and likely to be a playoff team in the West in 2014-15.

b) not a good team relative to the Central Division and unlikely to be a playoff team in the West in 2014-15.

This isn't a trick question. It's either a) or b), and feel free to justify your answer in the comments section below.

In the opinion of this writer, the answer is b). The Jets are not a good team relative to the Central. As such, they are unlikely to make the playoffs in 2014-15.  It is not a stretch to assume that the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars are all much better teams, and that the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche likely are too. Whether or not the Nashville Predators are better or not is very debatable. But there's a strong possibility, and perhaps even strong probability, that the Jets will again finish in the basement of the Central, and likely the Western Conference, once again this coming season.

Is the bolded statement above negative? Or is it realistic? Can it be both?  Answer in the poll below!

This might be the best Jets team assembled since they've returned to Winnipeg, but they've likely never been further away from relevance.

Why is it such a taboo topic in this city to suggest that the Winnipeg Jets have been a bad hockey team for the past couple of years, and that Kevin Cheveldayoff and company have done very little tangibly to improve? Even further, why is it so wrong to be critical of the job that the guy who generally manages this team has done to this point? Is his work that far above reproach? This might be the best Jets team assembled since they've returned to Winnipeg, but they've likely never been further away from relevance. If that's the case, are they actually improving?

Why is it that so many people, both on the blogosphere and in the hockey industry, believe that the Jets will stink again this year? Is everyone out to get Winnipeg? Is the Little City on the Prairie just the ugly duckling in the NHL landscape which never gets respect from the penthouses of skyscrapers from bigger cities? Or is it that these people realize that 29 teams also are drafting and developing too, and that many of those same teams also try to improve their team at the NHL level at the same time?

Let's look at some recent predictions from around the league:

The Score: 28th

The Winnipeg Jets have the talent of a Stanley Cup playoff team, but the goaltending of a Calder Cup playoff team. Which brings us to this equation: Ondrej Pavelec + Michael Hutchinson + Peter Budaj = Connor McDavid?

ESPN: 29th

The Jets remain a mighty work in progress. Lots of interesting young players, although the ongoing uncertainty over Evander Kane and his future in Winnipeg is problematic. The biggest issue will be in finding competent, consistent goaltending, something Ondrej Pavelec seems incapable of delivering.

Sportsnet: 25th

Yawn. That's my prediction for the 2014-15 Jets. Yawn. The young players will continue developing, and they'll show promise. But the goalie is weak. And unless they fix that, the most interesting thing about this team is whether or not they'll finally set Kane free to play some meaningful hockey somewhere that appreciates him. Oh: And they'll miss the playoffs. The West is stacked.

TSN: 19th

The Jets have a decent roster, really, but it's been undone all too often by G Ondrej Pavelec, and the Jets run that risk again this year. If Pavelec falters, Michael Hutchinson or Peter Budaj will have to step in, because average goaltending could give the Jets a shot at a playoff spot. What could push them close to that goal is continued development of LW Evander Kane, C Mark Scheifele and D Jacob Trouba, young players who are playing big roles already.

** Keep in mind that TSN also picked the Jets to finished dead last in the West in their Season Preview special.

Those are just four websites power rankings, but it should also be noted that multiple people have posted season predictions and the majority have the Jets in the basement of the Central and near the bottom of the West. Not to mention all of the embarrassing grades that the Jets received during yet another summer of inactivity. Which brings me back to my question: Are all of these people negative, or are they simply being realistic about where the Jets currently are?

Now, AIH has been labelled as negative by many people on the interwebs over the years and I think that's unfair. Lots of the analysis has been purely by the numbers, and guess what? The numbers haven't been pretty. The numbers are a good predictor of future results and the team has barely changed over the years. As such, it appears that Jets fans are relying on a heaping dose of hope to turn things around, something which the numbers aren't suggesting (especially with Pavelec still here). Which is fine. To each their own. I hope to win the lottery, but the numbers suggest I won't.

Speaking of the numbers, much has been made about the "Summer of Analytics" with all of the #fancystats hires and bloggers getting paid. But it was a quote from Dallas Eakins about the hiring of Tyler Dellow by the Oilers that got me thinking about the premise for this piece. Eakins had this to say when asked about @mc79hockey:

I think the criticism of Tyler (Dellow) has been his ability to challenge people forcefully in a conversation and defend what he believes in. But I’ve got no problem with that. I like that he’s got a goddamn opinion. That’s what you need when you’re in these meetings.

I heard through the grapevine [during the year] he was being highly critical of our team. That didn’t bother me. I’m like, ‘How can he not be highly critical of our team? We’re in 28th place.’ So of course he was.

I love these quotes. Maybe it's because it sounds like an NHL employee admitted that critical opinions were not only valid but sometimes heard from within the boardrooms and coaches offices, which would suggest that not every meeting involves a bunch of 'yes-men' sitting inside the echo-chamber just nodding their heads in agreement. Regardless, Eakins was at the helm of a bad that team that deserved critical opinions. If the team that finished in 28th spot deserved criticism, then maybe the team that finished 22nd does too.

I think the criticism of Tyler (Dellow) has been his ability to challenge people forcefully in a conversation and defend what he believes in. But I’ve got no problem with that. I like that he’s got a goddamn opinion. -Dallas Eakins

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. And it is my opinion that the Jets will struggle and will be basement dwellers this year. Is that negative? Perhaps. Is it realistic? I certainly think so. If nothing else, I'm willing to be critical of a team that I pay good money to watch in a town that is strangely devoid of hockey writers that are. I'm invested as a fan and as a customer, and I'm not pleased with the product that I'm purchasing. Why is that so wrong? Why does my opinion, which many people actually agree with by the way, elicit such a strong reaction? Disagree if you like, but leave the ad hominem attacks at home please. Differing opinions and healthy debate are allowed.

My hope is for the Jets to be a perennial contender. Many believe that the Jets are on their way and that a little bit more patience is required. I happen to believe that they should've blown up the Thrashers and began the rebuild years ago, and that the age gap between the two cores means that another rebuild is likely required soon. I also believe that the Jets need to pick a direction and either go for it or blow it up, as it's unfair to the current core to keep missing out on the dance. As such, I'm not pleased with where things currently stand.

I will say this, though. I'm tired of being down on the Jets. And I'm especially tired of being proven right about the Jets finishing in the mushy middle every season. All I ask is for the Chevy to get off the fence and pick a direction for his team, because the honeymoon is over and results are going to be needed sooner than later. And my fear is that they're not gonna happen any time soon. That may be negative, but it's as real and honest as I can tell it.

Prove me wrong, Chevy. Please.