As a preface to the Jets, those reading might wonder why I didn't finish pre-viewing the Pacific Division. I've decided to leave the top two teams in each division for review until the end and so I now move on to the Central Division.
The Winnipeg Jets, formerly the Atlanta Thrashers has played three season now in Mannitoba. The free pass of transition has come to pass. The fans want to see some growth and some progress towards being a decent and hopeful playoff team. Well hold onto your hats Jets fans, your in the toughest division in hockey and the better teams are going to be very good for a while longer. This team has a lot of holes in the roster and I have some big questions about the ability of the management staff to grapple with the holes and the creating a winning culture.
The Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has never drafted a can't miss player to make the team despite having a top ten pick in four of the last five years. He can't seem to shake that impression with the media that he knows what he is doing and seems to be a rationalization GM; always explaining what he was thinking before things got out of hand. He only seems decisive when hiring and firing underlings with immense relief that he's finally found the right fit when he hires new personal and abject indignation as he casts off the the old personal for failing him and the franchise. Not exactly what I'd call a loyalty up and down guy. He seems to think the only truly important position on the team is his and by right the media should understand how difficult and overwhelmed he is and have empathy for him. I disagree and think the start of the new year might be better off with a new face at the helm and evaluating what this team needs to be competitive every night and to start with making players accountable for performance. Next I would redesign the scouting department and trim down my European scouting department. I'd expand my North American scouting department locally and in the USA watching USHL and NCAA college programs. One of the biggest challenges on this team over the season is the challenge of travel and keeping the players ready to perform. I would address a top to bottom review and think about expanding the conditioning team for on the road expertise and to stay at home and work with injured players. That said, there has been a revolving door approach to the core coaching staff and it's high time to brain trust what kind of team should we want to be and determine the AHL affiliate coaching staff to develop a certain style of player and teach a system that will be familiar as players move up. If there was truly a team that needed to be blown up and started over, this is it!
The Coaching staff has issues from beyond the ice. The fans want performance and the chance of winning now. They waited a decade for a franchise to return and now they waited for the glimmer of hope. Now is the time and I'm afraid the good will has begun to dissipate. Paul Maurice is the Coach heading into the new season and has had time to adjust his staff to accommodate his needs coming into the new season. The advantage is that some bad cast members from last years team have been ejected, but the talent of young prospects is uncertain. At best he can field a team with two lines of NHL caliber players and the rest will be players getting a cup of coffee at the NHL level. His work with a defensive game and having a decent core four to anchor the defense, plays to his coaching skills. But because his team will be playing in the defensive end for 35-40 minutes a game, the toll will be high and he can expect to need at least 8-9 quality defensemen to rotate in and out of the line up as injuries pile up.
Excerberating this problem is a goaltending squad that nobody would draft in a fantasy league.
It doesn't sound good and it's not. There are some fine pieces on this hockey team and when they look back on their careers someday, these will not be considered the good times. Goaltending: Ondrej Pavelec has been declared the number one netminder on this team by GM Cheveldayoff. Perhaps the most underwhelming declaration for the new season. At this point in his career he looks rather shot out from absorbing too many pucks on a nightly basis for too long a time. His backup is Michael Hutchinson a perennial minor leaguer with adequate skills to to play once every 3-4 games. He could benefit from the chance to occasionally shine and get a ticket out of town by trade for depth on a lesser competing team. This will perhaps be the worst tandem in the NHL this year and I expect some down time for Pavelec by becoming injured on occasion.
Defense will be anchored by Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian and they will find themselves playing 22-24 minutes a night. If they can remain healthy, it will allow for Dustin Byfuglien to remain a converted left wing with his big body and hard shot being allowed to contribute to the offense. Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba will be the hard hitters and stay at home blue liners that will have to remain healthy and mobile to give the Jets a chance to survive game by game by blocking shots and absorbing tough hits in the corners. Grant Clitsome and Adam Pardy will fill the minutes and significant injury voids and get seasoned under fire. The Jet fans will see a lot of Ben Chiarot and Keaton Ellerby as they shuttle into and out of the lineup as needed.
The forwards will be anchored with Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little. Michael Frolic and Mathieu Perrault if at the top of their game can add timely depth scoring and good three zone play. The question mark becomes what can or will Evander Kane add to the Jets this year. He is capable of being a game changer or retreating to pout and glide out his shifts game to game. I don't think he's likely to respond well to Maurice as the coach so I think it likely that this is the year he gets traded, but probably for less value than Cheveldayoff will like and that may likely mean it will be trade deadline time before he is moved. Mark Scheifele and Eric Tangradi will fill penalty kill roles and see time on the third line. TJ Galiardi could see time in the top six forward spots if Kane is under performing again this season.
Sorry Jets fans, but I'm picking your team to finish seventh in the Central Division and last in the Western Conference.
Until Next Time!