The Winnipeg Jets are still among the NHL’s most talked-about teams, and for good reason. The club is only in its third year back in the league, after a lengthy 15-year absence. The NHL’s newest team hasn’t had any success just yet, missing the playoffs in both their 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. A slow start to the season has left fans of the team reeling. The honeymoon is over, and now it is time to make it to the post-season. The Jets currently sit in 13th place in the Western Conference, just one spot above the lowest position. With the Blackhawks taking on the Jets today, we assess the Jets in five points: Management, Goaltending, Offense, Defense, and Leadership.
Every team starts in the front office, and that position in the Jets’ organization is doing their best job to take the team to the post-season. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has been making smart moves, adding hard-working, underrated players, who can build during their time with the club. Moves like picking up Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik in the off-season are just the kind of trades he should be doing, and these players can develop into nightly contributors. Head Coach Claude Noel has come under fire during his tenure, but his blatant, honest coaching style has earned him praise throughout the league. From a player-development perspective, the Jets are doing the right thing, taking their time with hot prospects such as Mark Sheifele, and they will be a bigger asset when their time comes.
They could be much worse, but the Jets’ goaltending tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya is humble, to say the least. Pavelec has proved that he is worthy of a starting job in the NHL, and on some nights he is the man who keeps the Jets in the game. Montoya is a fitting back-up, and has posted a solid 2-1-0 record so far this season. The biggest problem in the crease is consistency. Pavelec, expected to start in the 70-80% range, needs to play a solid game night after night. His aforementioned performances are subsequently followed up by less-than-stellar games, and the Jets have a hard time stringing wins together because of it. No trades need to be made in this department, but development will be crucial throughout the season.
The Jets’ worst department is easily their blue-line, not only because of poor depth, but injuries becoming all too common. Leading the way on defense are big bodies in Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien. Coming in to their inaugural season, Byfuglien was supposed to be the #1 defender, but his lack of mobility soon paved the way for Bogosian to take the title. Now that both are in much better shape, the Jets have a solid top pairing. After that, however, the talent disappears, and many of the usual bodies aren’t in game shape. Regulars Paul Postma, Mark Stuart, and touted prospect Jacob Trouba all sit on Injured Reserve, and in their place are un-proven blue-liners such as Adam Pardy and Grant Clitsome. The Jets could definitely make an upgrade in this department: either a Grade-A defenseman to push either Byfuglien or Bogosian to the second pairing, or an experienced depth piece to serve in the fourth and fifth-defenseman role.
The Jets don’t have a stacked offensive lineup by any means, but seem to do alright with what they have. Players like Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler are pushed as “elite”, but still have yet to prove themselves worthy of the title. The Jets have done a good job in maintaining a consistent skill-level through all lines, however, with skilled players such as Bryan Little, Matt Halischuk, and the aforementioned Frolik contributing outside of the top line. The Jets have an abundance of big bodies up-front, with 9 players 6′ 2″ or taller, and could consider shipping off some of these in return for more skill and speed.
The Jets’ have done a good job of bringing in players that can lead the team, as the former squad in Atlanta shipped off those players long ago. Andrew Ladd is a very suitable player to be the Captain, as he knows what it takes to be the best, and he leads by example every shift. Olli Jokinen has put up lots of miles over his impressive career, and his strength is usually found in his calmness, and he is a player who can provide words of wisdom in almost any situation. Fellow assistant captain Mark Stuart is currently out of the lineup, but also deserving of an “A”, and Dustin Byfuglien was right there beside Ladd when they won the Stanley Cup together in 2010. The Jets will develop more players to take a leadership role in the future, but right now the team is young, and has lots to experience.
The Jets are slowly putting the pieces in place, and are ready to take it to the next level by making the playoffs. Before that happens, the team has to commit to the coaching staff’s decisions, and play better as a group. Progress has been slow, but the prize is in sight, and the Jets will get to that level sooner than some may think. Making the post-season in 2014 isn’t a stretch for the club, and they can battle for the third spot in the Central Division, with superpowers Chicago and St. Louis expected to take the 1-2 positions.
You can catch tonight’s Jets/Blackhawks match-up on TSN in Canada, and CSN+ in the USA. Puck drop is slated for 7:00 PM Central Time.
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