The off season is here. The draft and free agency are nearly upon us. With this comes plenty of speculation and people talking about how to fix what ails the Winnipeg Jets. Some of these suggestions are reasonable, but others are so off base it drives me batty. First, let’s look at a few narratives that are flat out wrong or silly (in my opinion).
"This core NEEDS a shake up"
This is a simple narrative that drives me up the wall, as evidenced by my attempted thrashing of said narrative way back in December. The Winnipeg Jets’ "core" is very clearly not the team’s problem. The Jets have a handful of quality NHL top players. The problem remains a lack of depth. That lack of depth will be amplified some by the loss of Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen to free agency.
I know what you are thinking. "This guy is dumb. Losing Joker and the Gooch is hardly a loss." Well, regardless of what you think - this duo combined for 70 points and 29 goals last year. As a team the Jets scored 227 goals. Gooch and Olli scored 12.8% of the team’s goals and that production will need to be replaced. It won’t be replaced by the likes of Anthony Peluso and Eric Tangradi logging more ice time.
Very few trades amount to a big win in short order. They are generally, vets for youth, offense for defense or a couple lesser players for one. Immediate discrepancies in talent all that common and odds are against this happening. Moving a core piece likely amounts to shuffling out a couple of the team’s top end players (for similarly skilled player) won’t do this group a lick of good. More talent has to be acquired plain and simple.
"Chevy has made a commitment to Ladd, Little and Wheeler, he has to support them by trading someone"
This one is flat out puzzling to me. While it does make sense that Chevy would want to support the more veteran members of his core it doesn’t makes sense to discount Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien or anyone else who is currently on the roster as help.
Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom have been far and away the best players on the team over the last three years. Moving one of these core players out does nothing to support Ladd, Little and Wheeler. Odds are any such trade would make the Jets worse over the short team. Unless some horrible GM (like Garth Snow) is keen to offer Chevy 50 cents for a quarter, a trade won't help much over the short term.
"Can’t pay a 3rd liner 5.2MM"
Why the hell not? Our own HappyCaraT recently broke down with Winnipeg Jets cap hits by line and defensive pairing. The first line is underpaid relative to the rest of the league and a quick trip to CapGeek will show you that the Jets aren't in cap trouble. Unless they are planning to spend big in free agency, a trade to clear cap space is completely unnecessary.
People seem to forget just how bad the depth on this team is. Chris Thorburn had an extended stretch in the Winnipeg Jets top six a year ago. That should never happen. What is wrong with playing a third liner a little more than normal if the team can do so without causing salary cap issues.
Building a Better Narrative
Spend big $$ and acquire more talent than you lose
If Winnipeg Jets Kevin Cheveldayoff truly wants to support the veteran core that he has assembled he'd be best served to "ring ring" on his money phone and spend some fat stacks in free agency. Talent in and talent out isn't a winning strategy and it isn't like his cupboards are flush with prospects who are ready to take a step into to NHL.
Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik were brought in this past off-season (via trade) to replace Kyle Wellwood and Nik Antropov. They did that, but they did little else more on paper.
Once again, Chevy will be tasked with replacing two middle-six forwards. This year, Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen. They combined for 70 points. Simply swapping them out for two similar player will amount to nil.
If Chevy wants this team to take a step forward he has to go out and add in a big way. That could mean overspending. It could also mean pushing the team up higher towards the cap than normal, but without adding some real skill the team will continue to stagnate. (Changing the goaltender would probably go a long way too!)
Admit you need to rebuild
The second option will be a bit tougher for many fans to stomach, but it might be the right move for the long run. This option does involve a trade or two or three, but this trade will have nothing to do with leadership, compete or knowing how to win. This theoretical trade would have everything to do with adding long term talent.
If the Jets can find a trade partner that is determined to "win now", said trade partner could be willing to trade multiple high valued, long term assets in exchange for a now player. There are many candidates on the Winnipeg Jets roster for this type of trade. Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Frolik, Kane, Byfuglien or Enstrom all make sense for other teams. Ladd and Byfuglien are the team's two shortest term assets, both with only two years remaining on their deals.
Moving any one of those players would be a real kick in the teeth to the players currently on the roster, but it might be the kind of move that could help to fully re-stock some relatively barren cupboards.