You could say that the Winnipeg Jets season was a lot like Winnipeg’s winter. It started off nice, had a not so great middle and then could never really decide if it wanted to thaw or not in the end. This season was officially a godforsaken season for the Jets. It started off on a great note with Ondrej Pavelec being sent down to the AHL and Connor Hellebuyck being given the reins in goal. Mark Stuart was playing very little and Patrik Laine was doing just fine in the goal-scoring department and Nikolaj Ehlers did not suffer from the dreaded Sophomore Slump. And then everything fell apart in November and the Jets fell back to Earth, just like Winnipeg started getting winter and finally had a dump of snow in December that took forever to go away.
The Jets have so many good pieces that they are wasting by surrounding them with bad players who do not provide the support that the core needs. Of course, there are players who are capable of turning into the support that the team needs, but those players have not been playing as much as they should have been during the last few weeks of the season. Players like Nic Petan and Marko Dano needed a chance to prove themselves as valuable support players; instead they were regulated to the fourth line and press box duty to close out the season.
But the Jets. The Jets are the Atlanta Thrashers without the Canadian media mocking them. They are still blundering along making far more bad decisions than good ones, suffering from a lack of depth, and relying solely on drafting and developing to create more depth in areas where the need is great. This is a strategy straight out of the Thrashers playbook. It is not deliberate as there is not purge of bad veterans, only the belief that if enough players are drafted and developed the franchise will turn around. That did not work for the organization for the 12 years the team was in Atlanta nor has it worked for the six years the team has been in Winnipeg. Maybe it is time to try something new.
In trying something new, management might be a good place to start. Kevin Cheveldayoff has built a playoff team exactly once in his six years of running the team. The only time 1/6 is good is when there is 1/6 of a Key Lime pie left and you are the only person home. Instead of trips to the playoffs Cheveldayoff’s record includes re-signing Chris Thorburn to a three year contract, re-signing Mark Stuart to a four year contract, re-signing Ondrej Pavelec to a five year contract, and never even trying to solve the damned goaltending issue that has partially been holding this team back for years. Somehow with those cons against him Cheveldayoff has never had his job questioned by anyone. He needs to realize at some point that the goaltending has never been good enough and maybe it is the goalies, but if every single goalie that comes through Winnipeg regresses from where they are, maybe the problem is the goalie coach.
Speaking of coaches, Paul Maurice has never had a particularly good record as a coach. Aside from a couple good years with the Carolina Hurricanes he has been a decidedly mediocre coach with a decidedly mediocre record who was coaching in the KHL and working for TSN as an analyst in between NHL jobs. His defensive zone has been a hot mess and while he has never had good goaltending, the latter point might has something to do with the former. Maurice is a mediocre head coach in the NHL whose time in Winnipeg should probably be up. There has been nothing said about his future in Winnipeg, but it should be questioned because one playoff appearance three years ago should not be good enough in three and a half seasons.
The Winnipeg Jets have so much potential to be more than what they are if they would only look at what is holding them back and let go a little bit. Let go of the people who have not performed to the expectations of their job. Let go of the idea that fans should just be happy that a team is here because being happy to be here will never win you anything and in competitive sport winning is all that matters. The NHL is not a “happy to be here” league. It is a league that has left coaches fired and waiting for a cab after a game. It is not a league where a guy is re-signed because he is “good in the room”. No! While there is merit to having a glue guy around, you need to be able to be a contributing member of a team on the ice to be valuable for you off-ice skills.
The Jets could be so much more than a Canadian iteration of the Atlanta Thrashers. They have chosen to remain a Canadian iteration of the Atlanta Thrashers. There is little hope when a team decides to play Chris Thorburn instead of Nic Petan or Marko Dano. This is a team that ran with Ondrej Pavelec in goal most seasons and he was barely NHL replacement level. Yes, they went on a late-season run, but they do that every year and every year people say it will make a difference going into the new season and every year it does not work. The Jets have been bad for far longer than they have been in Winnipeg. They have only two playoff appearances as a franchise and exactly zero wins to show for those two berths. The franchise has been around for 18 years and there are only two playoff appearances and zero wins. There are so many things to fix about the Jets it is not even funny. But this much should be clear: until the Jets start to play consistently and gain the proper calibre of goaltending, they will sit here spinning their wheels on the runway, waiting to take flight.