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What will the Winnipeg Jets look to do with playoff contention in their sights?

With 22 games left in the season, and only 3 of them left before the Trade Deadline, the Winnipeg Jets head into the stretch drive with plenty of question marks from where I sit.

Patrick Smith

We now rejoin our NHL season that is already in progress.

Following a 19-day hiatus for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Winnipeg Jets finally return to the ice tomorrow night as they play host to the Phoenix Coyotes. With 22 games left in the season, but only 3 games left before the Trade Deadline, the stretch drive of season three of the Jets 2.0 is about to begin. But where will this drive lead us?

Here's five things that I'm going to keep my eye on:

1) Playoffs?  PLAYOFFS?

Minnesota Wild 59 31 21 7 25 69
Los Angeles Kings 59 31 22 6 25 68
Dallas Stars 58 27 21 10 24 64
Phoenix Coyotes 58 27 21 10 23 64
Vancouver Canucks 60 27 24 9 24 63
Winnipeg Jets 60 28 26 6 23 62
Nashville Predators
59 25 24 10 24 60

(standings as of February 26, 2014)

Assuming that Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, Anaheim and San Jose are locks for the playoffs and that Calgary and Edmonton are done like dinner, the above chart shows the 7 teams playing for the final 3 spots in the uber-tough Western Conference.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are only two points out of a playoff spot, but they are also right in the middle of dog-fight with teams that have multiple games in hand. Only the Canucks have also played 60 games, and only the Coyotes have as few ROW wins, meaning that the Jets are in tough to be considered playoff contenders. In fact, Sports Club Stats gives them a 12.9% chance at this time, which is a hideous number to stare at, especially when their projections suggest that finishing with 28 points in the final 22 games (14-8-0) and 90 points would only give them a 30.8%. That surely won't be good enough. Welp.

Which leads into the next question...

2. Should Kevin Cheveldayoff be a Buyer or a Seller?

Chevy is not exactly known for his "asset-management" trades of selling off of UFA's (only moving Johnny Oduya for a 2nd and a 3rd in what was a great move), or for his "player-for"player" trades (having made exactly none of them up to this point as GM of the Jets). So it's pretty easy to suggest that the Jets will be sitting on their hands during next week's trade deadline.

But with six pending UFA's currently on the roster, should they be?

Player Age GP G A P Cap Hit
Olli Jokinen 35 60 13 19 32
Chris Thorburn 30 50 2 9 11
Adam Pardy 29 38 0 5 5
Mark Stuart 29 47 2 6 8
Devin Setoguchi 27 59 10 15
25 $3.0m

Player Age GP W L OT/SO SV% GAA Cap Hit
Al Montoya 29 18 10 4 4 0.925 2.18 $601k

Those six players are, for better or worse, integral parts of the Jets roster at this time. Thorburn has inexplicably been a top-6 forward and Stuart a top-4 defender at times, while Olli and Gooch have been demoted to 3rd-liners. But without them on the roster?  That pushes up the likes of James Wright and Eric Tangradi, and nobody, not even me, wants that. On the positive side, Pardy has been a pleasant surprise, and #wallmontoya should have stolen the number-one job from Ondrej Pavelec, but since that hasn't happened his future is also uncertain.

Now, I've been very critical of Chevy's asset management at times over the past few seasons (okay, pretty much all the time), and it's no different now. If we're going to measure Chevy and the success of the Jets on drafting/future views all of the time, then in my humble opinion they need to stop letting assets walk away for nothing when draft picks and prospects (you know, "futures") could be obtained. Is this team going to contend for the Cup this year as an 8th-seed? If you said yes, please give me a second as I'll need a moment to roll on the floor, laughing. The future is where the sights should be set.

Having said that, I do realize what message sending bodies out of the dressing room would send when in the middle of a playoff race, but everyone involved in this process should know by now that this is first and foremost a business. If you want to stay? Sign a contract extension. If you don't? Nice knowing ya. Every single skater on the above chart is quite replaceable, in my opinion, and quite easily done so with what we have down on the farm.

I guess we'll have to wait and see. Will THIS finally be the trade-deadline that Chevy finally puts his stamp on the Thrashers Jets?

3. What happens with all of these healthy bodies?

So these were apparently the lines at practice today with all hands on deck, as per Ken Wiebe (@WiebeSunSports):

Andrew Ladd Bryan Little Michael Frolik
Evander Kane Mark Scheifele Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi Olli Jokinen Dustin Byfuglien
Chris Thorburn James Wright Anthony Peluso
Eric Tangradi Jim Slater Matt Halischuk
Tobias Enstrom Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy Keaton Ellerby
Paul Postma

What in the heck is going to happen with this lineup? 5 full lines of forwards, not to mention Eric O'Dell down on the farm? A team that can't win a faceoff and Jim Slater can't get into the lineup over Wright? Halischuk not being able to beat out either face-puncher to provide an offensive spark? And Buff is still a forward with 14 other healthy forwards? And don't forget that Zach Redmond will be a UFA this summer too.

So what's the plan going forward? PoMo says he doesn't want to mess with the lineup that he had rolling heading into the break, but whatever momentum they had is obviously gone since they haven't played together in nearly three weeks. So what's the play here? Maybe there will be more moves over the next week then I envisioned. Either that, or Halischuk and Slater remain on the IR, even though they're healthy, until the roster limits disappear after the deadline. But I can certainly see a guy moved for cheap or just simply placed on waivers and buried.

4. What does the future hold for Ondrej Pavelec?

I'll keep this section short, as this site has obviously written a lot about what the Jets should do with Ondrej. But with public sentiment about #MVPavelec at an apparent all-time low, not to mention his numbers, it's becoming clearer and clearer that Pavelec isn't the answer as the #1 going forward.

I'm still hoping for a compliance buyout, but I'd accept any reality that involves a different goalie in our crease next season. But for the next 22 games, it will be very telling to see what Paul Maurice (or his meddling GM/ownership, if rumours are to be believed) does in the crease when the games turn incredibly important. Any guesses as to how many games Montoya sees coming down the stretch with only three sets of back-to-back's? Here's hoping it's in the double-digits.

And now to the major question that I can't wait to see play out...

5. Will the media finally stop coddling TNSE and upper management if things go south?

I've already convinced myself that the trade deadline will be a dud here in town, since TNSE allows absolutely nothing out of their offices and the Insiders will talk about every other team in Canada except ours. And when push comes to shove, I don't expect anything groundbreaking to occur.  But regardless of what happens next week, I'll be very interested to see if this is finally the time when the Jets brass finally feels the wrath from the local media if things go awry.

The "kid-glove" treatment that our local papers and airwaves continue to give this team is beyond ridiculous. I've been unable to listen to TSN 1290 lately due to all the sunshine that they constantly attempt to blow up my (expletive), and when I looked for a local story on the Olympic-sized meltdown our "starting" goalie had in Sochi in an elimination for the Czech Republic, the only story that was ran in the Free Press was a wire recap. When will the honeymoon be over between TNSE and our local MSM?

To be fair, every now and again a player will be called out (especially if you're Evander Kane or Dustin Byfuglien), and Claude Noel got lots of negative pub leading up to his eventual dismissal. But Chevy, Zinger and the rest of upper management continually manage to avoid negative press, despite the overall lack of results in a results-oriented game. I'm tired of being one of the few willing to voice my displeasure with the brass and "the plan", and I have such a small voice in the grand scheme of things that it barely matters anyways. I'd just like to see some variety in the media from some people who's voices actually carry some sway in this town.

So there you have it. My five things to keep an eye on.  Let me know what you're thoughts on them are in the comments below.