As the St. Johns Jets take to the ice tonight against the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome I have something to admit; I'm almost glad it's over. Don't get me wrong I love watching Jets hockey, just ask my wife who becomes a winter widow every October, but honestly this year the disappointment runs deep. The Winnipeg Jets have more or less taken a step back in their progress towards playing an 83rd game, and I'm weary of the consternation, analysis, and hand wringing. I want a fresh slate, a new line up and something more to cheer for than a draft pick. Hopefully game 82 will put this season out its misery with a good showing from the kids and a little hope for next year.
Jets management will face some tough choices in the summer as they look to retool a line up that at its best over achieved just to get within two points of a wild card spot and at it's worst fell out of the play-off conversation for much of the year. The issues basically boil down to bottom six depth, a fist line center and the big one; goal tending. You don't get far in the NHL without at least average goal tending and Ondrej Pavelec is a below average goaltender who's getting worse. The good news is that help from the prospects is on the way in these key positions but will it arrive next year? Probably not, and therein lies the challenge, how to retool a roster that can bridge the gap and still compete for game 83. Of course that's a topic for another column, but that's where we're at as we head into game 82 against a Flames team that faces a summer sharing the golf course with the Jets.
While the Jets suffered from high expectations that where never met, the Flames had the luxury of nobody expecting them to go very far at all. The Flames started the year in the trough of their talent cycle, with what was being described as a glorified AHL club. Although the talent cupboard was bare the Flames have still managed to eek out 35 wins and have more recently gone on a four game winning streak to close out their season. Many have seen this as a moral victory for the club who even in their depleted state have still managed to beat out their arch rivals in the battle of Alberta, the Edmonton Oilers. The boys from cow town have been playing for pride for quite some time now, will they notch one last win at home in the same fashion as the Jets?
Keys To The Game - Winnipeg
Michael Hutchison - Goal-tending has been a key factor all year and tonight is no different. We're expecting Hutchison to get one more look in Calgary as he seems to be auditioning for at least a back up role next year with the big club. A solid performance tonight will place him on managements radar for next season. For once it would be nice if solid goal-tending was simply a given with the Jets.
Wonder Kid Powers Activate! - A lot of kids are up from the farm getting a good look as the Jets 2014/15 pre-season starts early. These guys are fighting for jobs on next years squad and will have to bring the energy to defeat Calgary's lunch bucket crew at home. I'll be watching Klingberg, Cormier, and Redmond with interest. Especially Redmond, who's window is starting to close as he's not getting any younger.
The Need for Speed - Again, all year the Jets game has been based on a quick transition, high tempo game. That's why we love this team and continue to watch them, but they can never seem to sustain it through all three periods. Perhaps this is what Maurice was alluding to when he said next year more emphasis was going to be placed on conditioning?
Keys To The Off Season
Buy Out Ondrej Pavelec- Honestly this is a no brainier. The propeller heads at Arctic Ice Hockey have run the numbers six ways to Sunday and there is just no other way. On a high tempo team that tends to give up a lot of shots, below average goal tending is going to result in perpetual mediocrity. Ondrej is getting worse and his salary is going up, time to cut bait before the window closes.
Sign A Goalie- Right now it's a buyers market for goalies. There are a lot of UFA golies out there that are cheaper and better than Ondrej Pavelec. Chevy needs to make it happen or this team is going nowhere, it's that simple.
Re-sign Frolik - He's been one of my favorite players this year. When he's not making stuff happen, he's making a safe play. There are very few mistakes in his game, get him signed and do it quick
Re-sign Maurice - His numbers have definitely come back down to earth but there is no mistaking that there is a culture and identity being established in the Winnipeg Jets locker room. Maurice has established his authority and has implemented a well thought out game plan almost every night. This needs to continue, again Chevy needs to get this done or risk falling off the mediocrity cliff.
Keys To The Game - Clagary
Clog up the middle - Get on the Jets before they cross the line. It's been the tried and true way of neutralizing this team all year and it should work again tonight.
Match the energy- You have young guys fighting for jobs, the Jets have young guys fighting for jobs, the flames need to match the energy and execute better defensively.
Play for your fans - It's your last game at home, replicate what the Jets did last night and bring your A-game. Your fans deserve it they've stuck with you through a losing season, give them something to feel good about
So there you have it Jets fans, while 2011 was a season to remember, 2013/14 was a season to forget. The highs didn't get very high and the team seemed to be wondering in the desert for at least half the year. The Olympic break didn't do us any favors in breaking up our momentum and we saw just how shallow our depth was after Mark Scheifelle went down with a knee injury in March. 2013/14 also exposed Ondrej Pavelec leaving his supporters little in the way of excuses and creating a lot of questions about his contract.
In the end there just weren't enough horses in the stable to get the job done. Here's to next year, hopefully some of our bright stars will shine a little brighter and maybe Chevy will put aside his risk aversion and make a move or two to improve this club.
82, Over and Out
Player to Boo Mercilessly
Mike Cammalleri, because he used to be a hab.