I've been with the folks here at Arctic Ice for just over a month now, and as I'm sure you may have noticed, I haven't really done much. I have my reasons for that, one of which being life has been pretty hectic.
I have though stayed up to date with what's been going on with the Jets, and for those of you that haven't checked out the JetStream podcast yet, I'm not very happy. With the recent announcement of Matt Halischuk coming back to the River City, I decided now was as good a time as any to get aggressive with my keyboard and spit out some of the thoughts I have about the current direction of the Winnipeg Jets.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
I try so hard to like some of the moves that Kevin Cheveldayoff makes. Really, really hard. After all, every once in a while he does actually make a good move, giving a lot of us the idea that maybe he is learning from his mistakes. Maybe, just maybe the Jets are about to turn a corner and start building something that can actually compete in Division III. Adding guys like Mathieu Perreault and Michael Frolik are perfect examples of this. These are the kind of players the Jets need to be adding. Strong possession guys that push the play and put up points when used appropriately. The kind of guys that can adequately fill roles when your top guys go down with injury.
(None of us want to see Chris Thorburn on the second line ever again.)
Yet it seems as if every time Chevy does something intelligent, he either preceded it or follows it up with an incredibly stupid and confusing decision. The signing of Perreault was completely overshadowed by the Thorburn extension. The rise of an acquired goaltender in Hutchinson is hidden in the fact that Pavelec wasn't only retained by the team, but already awarded the starting role. The hope generated by draft picks Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey is hindered by the extension to Mark Stuart and the compilation of mediocre-at-best left handed defensemen, while allowing a prospect in Zach Redmond to walk away for nothing.
It's an emotional roller coaster for the coldest-hearted of fans, and they all add up to a level of confusion and loss of direction that has a lot of people getting sick and tired of inconsistency.
Hard-ball with the Good Guys?
This is something I just can't wrap my head around. It's your job as a General Manager of a professional sports team to recognize the pieces that help you win, and award them appropriately. Yet instead, Kevin Cheveldayoff seems to find solace in handing long term extensions, and in some cases more money than is deserved, to players that are easily replaceable (Thorburn, Stuart) and are more often than not a detriment to the team. Heck, the Jets could have very easily replaced both of these players with guys that are already on the roster (Peluso, Clitsome).
Yet when you have a player who provided spectacular possession numbers, was one of the best puck handlers & zone entry guys on your team, and scored at a second line rate last season, you decide to play hard ball? Michael Frolik was one of Chevy's best additions to the Winnipeg Jets, yet instead of securing him for a longer term he chose to stick to his guns and limit the commitment with a one year contract? Sure, there is still a good chance Frolik decides to re-up in January and that long term contract gets signed. But why take that unnecessary risk? He was a restricted free agent this year, and the smart move was to take advantage. He's a good player that has openly admitted to enjoying Winnipeg. That's *apparently* the kind of player the Jets need to hold on to, and overpay if needed. Not these "locker room" guys that can be replaced, and easily improved upon, for less money.
As for those of you under the belief that Chevy didn't want to get played by Allan Walsh again? If an NHL General Manager is that afraid of an agent, the Jets have bigger problems than we could ever imagine.
The off-season is a time where teams make moves and look to adjust their lineups in order to prepare/get better for the next season. Unless you're the Winnipeg Jets that is. I think Garret sums things up pretty nicely here:
There was a moment where I was at least happy that the Jets dropped some terrible players even if they didn't find a bunch of great ones...— Garret Hohl (@garrethohl) July 30, 2014
Now with Halischuk, Thorburn, Ellerby and Stuart all returning... I've realized my happiness was a fraud.— Garret Hohl (@garrethohl) July 30, 2014
Of the 23 players currently on the Jets roster, 22 of them ended last season with the team. A team, I remind you, which finished in the bottom half of possession numbers and dead last in the Central last year. The Jets are a truck stuck in the mud, constantly pumping the gas and spinning their tires (and thus digging a bigger whole) instead of being proactive and searching for alternative solutions. Someone please remind me of the definition of insanity?
Even with the questionable signing of Mark Stuart during the season, being able to rid themselves of Thorburn, Ellerby and Halischuk was going to create (at minimum) opportunities for young players to step into those roles and provide them with a realistic chance. They were set and ready to improve by subtraction. I would take a fourth line made up of young, potentially break-through prospects over useless, under performing face-punchers any day. By bringing these players back, not only do the Jets potentially take away roles in the NHL, but they load up the AHL with more guys that have already shown their limited worth in the show. That is not how you run a good organization. This kind of decision making leaves prospects thinking they have no chance of development, or any true shot at achieving their NHL dreams with this franchise. Thus, you have players (Zach Redmond) leave at their first opening for nothing.
It's poor asset management, and a terrible way to run a hockey team.
Further to Chevy's inability to look outside his current lineup for upgrades, he still has the exact same issues facing him going into this season as he has in seasons past. A lack of strong depth players, holes in his defensive core, and a goaltender that has never shown the ability to meet league average play in Winnipeg (or even come close).
I understand that it's usually expensive, and often unintelligent, to go chasing after big names in free agency. The truth of the matter though is that's not what Chevy has needed to do. I genuinely believe that the Jets have a decent groundwork in place. Instead of bringing back pieces like Thorburn and Halischuk, or looking to waivers to get guys like James Wright, they should be going after and acquiring the likes of Lee Stempniak or David Booth, and holding on to the likes of Kyle Wellwood. Players who are solid possession-wise that successfully fill third and fourth line roles until the kids are ready to go. Or hey, how about a player for player trade? They seem to be working pretty well in Dallas.
Decisions like moving Byfuglien to the third line does nothing but create liabilities in the back end, and piling up 3-6 left side defensemen that (at best) should be competing for a 5-6 role is not how you add depth. It's how you waste money, and make it harder for an "internal cap" team to do anything. And don't get me started with the decision to "stay the course" with Pavelec.
I'm not sure if it's an inability to address the problems or stubbornness to admit to mistakes, but something (or someone) needs to change if this franchise wants to even think about stuttering the word "playoffs".
To Conclude: Make Up Your Mind
Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets front office need to make a decision. They need to choose if they want to stick with this core and try to PROPERLY build around it, or if they want to blow this up and start over. The Jets have pieces that other teams would be willing to pay for, and I'm sure more than one of them would be willing to waive a no-trade clause or submit a list of acceptable teams if they were asked to. Enough of this balancing act between success and catastrophic failure.
Connor McDavid is up for grabs at the upcoming draft. Maybe this is the right time to go all in and really start this "draft and develop" program properly.