Christmas break just ended and New Years is upon us. This time of year is among the quietest time throughout the NHL season. Instead of trading players, hockey ops personal were more concentrated on trading gifts from under the Christmas trees. The game shuts down and the holidays take a front seat. The December almost week long break is a great time to evaluate a club and see what's going well, and what's going not so well. Looking at the Winnipeg Jets though the break, it was hard to find things that are going well.
This year hasn't gone as planned for the Winnipeg Jets. They find themselves at the bottom of the leagues hardest division, with 24 points, which pins them 8 points out of a playoff spot. That's a tough hole to dig out of, especially when playing in the western conference.
Crazy that no team is significantly ahead in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes. pic.twitter.com/iW9FVbS5K4— Jacob Stoller (@AIHJacobStoller) December 24, 2015
Their lack of depth has been exposed due to the team handing rookies jobs right out of training camp and those rookies struggling. With no depth up front, their is no backup plan in place. The Jets are back to their old ways, a two line hockey team with very little efficiency in their bottom six. Their still collecting lots and lots of penalties on a nightly basis which Coach Paul Maurice once deemed " Part of their identity", not too long ago. The Jets are 3rd in the league in penalty minutes with 428, rounding to 12.59 per game. To add insult to injury, when the Jets find themselves in penalty trouble, their 27th ranked penalty kill ( 77.3%) can't seem to bail them out. Bundle this all up with the uncertainty surrounding pending UFA's Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets have themselves some serious problems on, and off the ice.
Barring a marvelous string of wins, you can say goodbye to seeing a whiteout in April this year. But their is a nice consolation prize that the Jets could pursue if they were to stop focusing on this year and start looking at what is best for them in the future.
This year, the word tank hasn't been thrown around much this NHL season. Last season, It was the McEichel sweepstakes that dominated headlines. Throughout the entire season, you may remember seeing fans from markets such as Edmonton, Buffalo and Arizona and other last place teams tweeting out #TankForMcEichel or other things along those lines. It was a pretty crazy race to the bottom.
Last year it got so bad, Buffalo fans were cheering when their team lost in overtime against the Coyotes. Just because it gave them that much extra of a chance to land a generational star.
This year there is another generational player waiting in the wings, but you don't see teams intentionally loosing so that they can get him. If Auston Matthews was born a couple days earlier, he'd be eligible for the 2015 draft. Due to the September 15th cutoff the NHL sets, Auston Matthews will be apart of the 2016 NHL Draft class. Auston Matthews is a franchise player and that doesn't get put out there enough. He's generally overlooked because he is playing overseas with Zurich of the Swiss league and he doesn't get enough coverage over in North America. But scouts and team personal know what this kid is capable of, and soon the rest of the hockey world will too when he represents team USA at the world junior tournament.
Asked a scout who I respect a lot and @ShaneMalloy who they would take... Eichel or Matthews... Both went Matthews. Can't wait for tourny— Matthew Barnaby (@MattBarnaby3636) December 24, 2015
@jel779 McDavid, Matthews, Eichel— Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) December 18, 2015
If teams were purposely running backwards to get a chance at Eichel and if Matthews is supposedly supposed to be better than Eichel, why aren't teams bending over backwards to try to tank for him?
Should the Jets Tank for Auston Matthews?
Tanking takes out a huge element of integrity of the game. It's annoying to see it in sports, watching a team trade away players and lower the quality of the team and lose several games. It's painful to watch. It's a risky move that can heavily pay off. Sure, there is no guarantee that the Jets will get Matthews even if they get the best draft lottery odds, but a top 3-5 pick in this years draft could certainly help the Jets, if they don't land the first overall pick. The prospect of a player like Auston Matthews coming to the Jets should water the mouth of Kevin Cheveldayoff enough that he takes the steps necessary to end up in the basement of the standings and get a chance to land Matthews.
It's not even that hard for the Jets to tank. With the way the Jets have been playing and with the way the Jets roster is already aligned, they could end up with some of the highest lottery odds without even making moves. It's been that bad this year. What if the Jets were to trade both pending UFA's Dustin Byfuglien, and Andrew Ladd? How about that? Even if the Jets weren't aiming to tank, that seems like a logical course of action. Ladd has been invisible as of late and hasn't been leading the way someone with a 'C' should. . I have been an advocate of the Jets retaining Ladd, but game by game, its hard to fathom paying him the big money he wants for 6 more years. And their is just no way the Jets could give Byfuglien a contract comparable to what he wants.
When a team starts to fall behind in a way the Jets have, and it looks more and more unlikely that they can dig out of the whole that they are in, usually they start trading assets, collecting picks and prospects, and continuing to fall down more and more in the standings just so they can get better odds at the draft lottery. If the Jets continue to play as poorly as they have ,they could have a really solid chance at landing Auston Matthews. Landing Matthews would do wonders for an organization like the Jets that is in need of a saviour that will help them return to the postseason in the tough central division and hopefully help them on their quest to the Stanley Cup.
Being in a small market like Winnipeg, it's nearly impossible to lure a big time superstar via free agency to Winnipeg for a few reasons. The climate and city of Winnipeg isn't that desirable if your an NHL superstar and their is no way the Jets can win a bidding war with big market clubs. It's hard to lure the big fish. The only way to get a star here is to draft them. Yes, Cheveldayoff and co have been drafting and developing quite nicely, we get it. But of the guys they have drafted and developed, are any of them a franchise changing player? No. That's not a knock on any of the young players the Jets have, but it's just the truth of the matter.
For the Jets to get over the hump in the central division, they need some star power. Look across the central division, everyone has a superstar, maybe even two. Chicago ( Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ) and Dallas ( Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin ) have dynamic duos up front that will continue to take up playoff spots in the central. St Louis ( Vladimir Tarasenko ) and Colorado ( Matt Duchene) have two young stars that will be causing the Jets headaches for the years to come. Minnesota ( Ryan Suter) and Nashville ( Shea Webber) has two Norris candidates on the back end. Who do the Jets have?
Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, are pretty good hockey players but they aren't at all up to the repertory that the rest of these guys are. Mark Scheifele has been great this year, but will he ever be up to par with the best of the central division?
The Jets need a star to help them reach the postseason and make the deep playoff run that fans crave.
What will help the Jets for the years to come? To start winning games in the second half of this season and give themselves a small hope of reaching the playoffs? Or to try to tank for Auston Matthews, a generational player. It's time to start thinking about winning big time. You need big players to have big success. The Jets can't continue at the pace that they are and have hopes of going on a deep playoff run for Stanley Cup, because it won't happen.
It's time to start making moves that will give this team a chance to win. Not minor moves that will help the Jets tread water. Aim for a bright future, not for a ( slim) chance at slipping in to the playoffs this season. Put this season is in the rear view mirror, it's time to look ahead at the obstacles that lay ahead for the Jets for the years to come.
The Jets should go for the home run. This team needs that home run.