It was a little over three years ago in the middle of a cold, miserable winter that Claude Noel and Perry Pearn were fired. Charlie Huddy, the much-maligned coach of the defence was retained and he remains an assistant coach for the Jets to this day. Over that time Pascal Vincent has left the NHL team and become the head coach of the AHL Manitoba Moose where his record is less than stellar. He was replaced by Jamie Kompon and Todd Woodcroft. Even with these changes to the Jets coaching staff, there are still large issues holding the team back.
The deployment of the Jets forwards is confusing at best. There are certain players who are playing with players that make it hard for them to contribute in five on five play. The best example of this is Nic Petan. Petan is a skilled player who is playing on the fourth line with Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn while receiving powerplay time. Petan is a good player, but he is not someone who can make Thorburn into a NHL player. Granted, I do not think that Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid could either. This odd deployment of Petan has been an ongoing issue for the Jets over the course of many seasons. Back when Burmistrov was good, he was rarely given chance to play on a line other than the third line and do not get me started on Chris Thorburn: second line player. This is a persistent problem that needs to be addressed before the Jets can truly move forward as a group.
The Winnipeg Jets play a messy defensive system. They seem to favour a man-to-man system that leaves players out to dry if they do not play it to perfection. Take for example the Los Angeles Kings first goal on Saturday night.
Great assist by Kopitar to find Gaborik. pic.twitter.com/yShbhrxu6N— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) January 15, 2017
This GIF is a great example of what happens with the Jets system and one of the main reasons outside of goaltending that the Jets get scored on: they play a man to man defence. Man to man defence is rarely a smart defence to play, even in sports that are less fluid than hockey. Basketball regularly has drop defence to help defence against picks, as does water polo. Water polo also uses drops to help coverage in front of the net as well. The idea is that help defence makes it so there are safety valves when a player gets lost on defence like Blake Wheeler did, there is back up for them so they goalie is not left in a one on one battle.
This has been a persistent problem for the Jets; players losing their man on defence only for the lapse to end up as either a goal or a very good scoring chance. Because this has been a persistent issue, steps should have been taken to address it. The system is simply not helping the players maximize their defensive play and pursuit of the puck. There has to be a better way for players to rotate instead of man to man coverage.
The Jets have a really solid top four defence, but after that it is a clusterfuck of horrid defencemen and miscast players. Take Ben Chiarot and Mark Stuart. They are both horrid defensively and yet one of them is always in the lineup. Paul Postma is a fine third pairing defenceman, but he cannot be counted on to carry anyone who is so far below a NHL calibre player. Within the organization, the Jets have probably five NHL-calibre defencemen. That is not even a full complement for a single game, never mind enough to survive an entire NHL season.
Defensive depth is not something that can be fixed by drafting, at least in the short-term. Yes, drafting good defencemen helps, but teams also need to look for bargain players like Mark Barberio. A player like Barberio gets overlooked, but is a solid bottom-pairing NHLer and can play higher up in the lineup when needed. Barberio is the type of player that the Jets are lacking; someone who can be slipped through waivers and recalled when needed, inserted into the lineup and play like he never missed a beat. With the woeful depth the Jets have on their blueline, Cheveldayoff has a lot of work to do.
This is a big one and one that is self-inflicted. Connor Hellebuyck has not lived up to the hype he came in with, but the goaltending issues go back to the days of the Atlanta Thrashers. Ondrej Pavelec has had one season where he was a NHL goalie. Outside of that year, he has been bad. Yet, he has been the starting goalie with a clear back-up every season. And then this season when the Jets decided to go ahead with a young starter, they went with a youngish backup who might not have the wherewithal to step in if Hellebuyck faltered. This was a massive oversight on the Jets behalf.
The problem with the goaltending is that it has always been an issue and does not seem be fixable in anyone’s eyes. Part of the problem is the fact that the Jets have long-since ignored the issue until it got to the point where they were desperate to fix it with no viable plan if plan A failed. Plan A is struggling right now and plan B is to go back to Pavelec. Same old, same old.
These are only some of the issues plaguing the Jets since they have come to Winnipeg. Most of these issues have been left unresolved for the past five and a half years. The results of that neglect is seen in how the team is performing the past two years. The Jets have been bad for a long time and while there is upside to the current team, the organization has had hope in the past.
Part two runs tomorrow and looks at more prolems that have been plaguing the Jets since they moved to Winnipeg.