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The problems for the Winnipeg Jets run deep: Part Four

Since moving to Winnipeg, nothing has really changed from the Atlanta Thrashers to the Winnipeg Jets.

2016 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nic Petan is on the fourth line while Andrew Copp is on the second line. Ondrej Pavelec has been called up from the AHL and has started four straight games including a back to back set. Ben Chiarot and Mark Stuart have been bad options for the Jets for over two seasons and yet one of them is always in the lineup. These are all small examples of the problems that plague the Jets beyond the simple systems and tactics.

Before they were known as the Winnipeg Jets they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers and that was a bad team that had a lot of good players on it. Players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, and Slava Kozlov who were all very good players who were stuck in an impossible situation. For some reason, the team just could not be good. There were always inexplicable decisions being made; like trading Braydon Coburn for Alexei Zhitnik. These types of decisions, paired with confusing coaching moves, held the Thrashers back from doing anything of note.

The similarities between the Thrashers and the Jets is astounding. While the drafting might be better now; there have been no Alex Bourrets or Daulton Leveilles in the first round since the franchise has moved to Winnipeg, the team is still making the same mistakes as they did in Atlanta. While there have been fewer coaching changes, the general manager has remained as confusing as ever and while ownership cares more, they seem to care about the wrong things when it comes to the team.

First and foremost, while the coaching position has become more stable there are still the same frustrating decisions being made game in, game out. Decisions like deciding to play Petan on the fourth line even after injuries hit and playing Copp on the second line even though Petan has more potential as an offensive player. Little decisions like this mean something in the big picture. This season is a write-off for the Jets and they should be looking towards next year and evaluating what they have in what positions. If they know that Petan can play at least in the top nine, than their off-season outlook looks different. Injuries give the Jets some time to sort out who they want to protect and who they want to expose in the expansion draft this June. Instead Petan is stuck playing with Chris Thoburn and Brandon Tanev on the fourth line while generating no offence.

Then there is goaltending. The Thrashers had problems with goaltending that seemed to subside a bit when Kari Lehtonen was drafted, but he also had a lot of injury problems and was traded to the Dallas Stars to make way for Ondrej Pavelec to become the starting goalie. The Jets have never worked to fix the starting goalie problem, which is on management. There have been numerous chances for the Jets to make a move to improve the goalie position and they have failed to every time. They could have signed James Reimer, picked Jaroslav Halak off of waivers, or traded for Brian Elliott to list a few options. Instead the Jets did nothing.

Not solving obvious problems is a constant issue with the Jets management and is a behaviour that was equally apparent in Atlanta. While both ownership and management has changed, nothing has really changed. When you look at the Jets defensive depth, there have been no real moves made to improve it. Since moving to Winnipeg the Jets have kept players like Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn around as fake depth for too long. Instead of looking to improve depth positions with cheap, young players the Jets decided to stick with the older, worse, more expensive players. They would rather dance with the devil they know then see what someone else is capable of in the same positions as the old guard.

Of course the Thrashers went through the same inane games of keeping old guys for no reason. They are the team that acquired both Stuart and Thorburn. Thorburn was traded for a third round pick and Stuart was part of the trade that brought Blake Wheeler to the Thrashers. This is utter stupidity. A player like Stuart or Thorburn should not be players that have long tenures with a team; they should be journeymen who go to teams who need stop-gap veterans.

There are supposedly some good young players in the organization. The problem is the Manitoba Moose are not a very good team and are well below .500. While there are probably some good players on that team, it is hard to evaluate them because of how bad the team is overall. To properly develop players they should be put in positions to succeed. The Jets have failed to do that at both the NHL level with a skilled player like Petan and in the AHL by having players play for a bad team where there are few strong veterans to support them while they adjust to professional hockey.

The frustrating part about the Jets is they have some very good players; definitely more than Atlanta had at any given point. A team should be able to construct a playoff-worthy team around the current top six forwards and the top four defencemen. The problem is that ownership and management are too invested in “their guys” to see the forest in the trees. They are unwilling to make the hard decisions needed to be made for the Jets to improve to be the team they should be.

It is easy to say that the rebuild started when the team moved to Winnipeg, but that is downplaying the fact that Rick Dudley had already torn down the team and built up a decent base in Andrew Ladd, Tobias Enstrom, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, and Evander Kane for Kevin Cheveldayoff to build off of. Instead, the Jets insisted that there needed to be another rebuild. No, they never said that, but their actions did. They also fell in love with the idea of Manitoban plays and former Manitoba Moose rejoining the organization. This put the Jets at a deficit because it limited who they were willing to sign. Having players that you know in an organization is fine, but if the objective is to win than any sort of nepotism needs to be weeded out and not just family ties.

The Jets have been in Winnipeg for six years now. The Atlanta Thrashers played their first game 16 years ago last October. The fact the organization has been making the same mistakes for 16 years is not promising. The evidence shows that no only have the Jets not learned from the Thrashers mistakes, they are bent on repeating them. This is the same team that moved to Winnipeg six years ago. There may be a brand new front office, two different head coaches, and a litany of player moves, but the team itself is the same and that is the biggest problem with the Jets.