When I look at the direction the Winnipeg Jets are heading, I can't help but think the forecast is calling for some turbulence this upcoming season. As free agency dies down, a quick look at the Jets roster sees few improvements over last year's squad. Meanwhile, the rest of the central division has taken some major strides. It appeared that this offseason, the rich got richer.
Goals against have been a problem for the Jets and one that they have stated the need to improve. The Jets ended last season with arguably the league's worst starting goalie in Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec remains the starter. Meanwhile, other teams who have struggled through poor goaltending - such as the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks - went out and signed Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller respectively. The Islanders also went out acquired Jaroslav Halak.
Barring a trade, it appears that a tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson will operate the crease for the Jets. That’s is not necessarily a recipe for success. The Jets are cooking up a situation that could force them to throw a rookie directly into the fire. Ondrej Pavelec has a history or shaky play. Hutch might be ready, but it is always preferable to ease a young player into the bigs.
On paper, and barring a miracle, the duo of Pavelec and Hutchinson can't compete with the likes of Corey Crawford, Josh Harding, Kari Lehtonen, Pekka Rinne, Semyon Varlamov, and Brian Elliott in the tough Central Division.
If goal provention won't come via improved goaltending, the defensive core will be responsible for shouldering much of the load. Basically - if the goaltending isn't going to be top notch, the defensive core must be. Well, it doesn't appear this will be the case. The D core of Zach Bogosian, Grant Clitsome, Tobias Enstrom, Adam Pardy, Paul Postma, Mark Stuart and the coveted second year defenceman Jacob Trouba remains largely unchanged from a year ago. The biggest change will be the loss of Keaton Ellerby and Zach Redmond.
It is hard to imaging the Winnipeg Jets will see a tangible improvement with these changes.
Looking at the forward group, most Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Michael Frolik are likely returning. They are a solid group, but also largely a known quantity. Kevin Cheveldayoff has added Mathieu Perreault to the mix in what was a really nice signing, but unless someone else is added he will be tasked with replacing two players. Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen are hardly world beaters, but they did combine for 29 goals and 70 points last year.
As is, this forward core has basically been the same was last year. Is the team counting on a major breakout from Kane or Scheifele? Will Perreault be carrying a heavy load? Apart from that, there isn't a ton of upside here.
Over the last three year the Jets, their General Manager and their scouting staff have assembled a deep and skilled pool of prospects. The list of NHL ready prospects is short though. Many of these prospects take to time to develop. That could be a couple years down the road and it doesn't look like the Jets will be contending within that time.
All that said, having elite prospects in the system, is not a one way ticket to the playoffs. Every prospect is a risk, nothing is guaranteed. A "draft and develop" model is great but regardless of the team, chance plays a role. More draft picks and more prospect increases a team's odds of success in the draft.
It’s becoming apparent to me that the Jets' hopes of competing for a playoff spot this year are slim. Heck, they won't be a lock to make the playoffs the following year. When the Jets eventually make it, it could be a few more years before they become a contender. Of course, things could change and Kevin Cheveldayoff would have a better grasp of the timeline than Joe fan, but the timeline presents a challenge. It also creates plenty or room for questions.
When will the Winnipeg Jets be competitive? How old old will some of the vets be at this point?
If Kevin Cheveldayoff believe the Jets are close - the status quo makes some sense. If Chevy sees the Jets as a little further out, one has to wonder how long he will ride the likes of Tobias Enstrom, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien? They are very good players, but they are also at prime age or slightly beyond. If these Jets are going to be past their primes by the time the Jets are competitive, it could make some sense to move a couple to load up on future assets and/or draft picks. These prospects and/or draft picks would theoretically be ready to hit stride around the same time as the Winnipeg Jets' young studs Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele.
Every team will need veterans, but they will also need more young, cost controlled assets. Is it better for the Jets to win 35-40 games a year with Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler or would they be better suited to trade a couple of those players and load up on futures?
Other Teams Are Doing This
The Buffalo Sabres have gone this route. The Sabres finished last in the NHL last season and in doing so they secured the second overall picks of the 2014 NHL draft. They selected Sam Reinhart. Within the season the team completed a series of moves that will benefit the team in the future. The Sabres will have three selections in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft. Assuming they use all three picks, the Sabres will have drafted eight first round picks across their last four drafts.
They acknowledged that they weren't in a position to win. So the changed gears and set their eyes to the future. They transformed current assets in to future assets via trades. They are drafting lots - especially early! This will do nothing but help as they aim to draft and develop.
Should the Jets?
The Winnipeg Jets have plenty of assets on hand that would garner significant returns on the trade market. Is it time for the Jets to double down on the future? Is it time for the Jets to draft and develop more? Only Chevy and a select few higher ups know what the team is going to do. Only a select few know the anticipated timeline for the team, but fans are beginning to wonder what will happen and - more importantly - when.
Should the Winnipeg Jets blow it all up? Share your thoughts below.