Despite their 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon, the Winnipeg Jets enter the 2+ week Olympic break as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Since Paul Maurice took over from the fired Claude Noel behind the bench, the Jets went on a 9-3-1 tear that saw the team play with more structure and confidence. This streak has also seen the Jets go from thinking about next season, to go within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Going into the break, the Jets sit back two points back of the Dallas Stars for the final wildcard position, a spot that was unthinkable back on January 12, the day Noel got the axe from Jets management.
By looking at this, the Olympic break comes at a bad time for the Jets. But that’s not entirely the case. The Jets were going through some injury issues and the break is a perfect time for the likes of Evander Kane, Jim Slater and Matt Halischuk to heal their wounds and get ready for the stretch drive. Kane in particular is vital to the Jets cause, as he was starting to find chemistry with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, before a hand infection sidelined the 22-year-old left winger for the last six games.
The Jets will also have to decide what they will do at the trade deadline. With Mark Stuart, Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi, Chris Thorburn, Adam Pardy and Al Montoya all set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff faces a difficult decision.
The narrative that has surrounded the Jets since the franchise arrived from Atlanta is build for the future. But with the Jets in a playoff chase, does Chevy sacrifice some of the future to acquire that last missing piece and get over the hump and into the playoffs? Does he stand pat and go with the hot hand he has and let some, if not all the UFAs walk in the summer? Or does he ignore the playoff race and deal the potential UFAs for prospects and draft picks?
While it is a difficult decision, the Jets should look for the future. Granted, the likes of Pardy and Thorburn won’t fetch much but Stuart, Jokinen and Setoguchi are the types of players, teams search for as rentals for a playoff push or the last piece to the championship puzzle. What Cheveldayoff needs to do is decide which players aren’t part of the future and deal them for assets that can best benefit the team down the road. The Jets are the youngest team in the NHL and with Scheifele and Jacob Trouba slowly becoming the foundation of the franchise, the Jets will need to build around their two young studs.
Finally, the Jets can sit down with Maurice and work out an extension. True North needs to make a commitment to the man who has guided a stunning turnaround for the team. Maurice brings a sense of professionalism to the job that Noel seemed to lack. Maurice has brought out the best in young players like Scheifele and Trouba while the veterans have responded to Maurice’s approach and methods. While it has been said that Maurice won’t negotiate a contract until the end of the season, Cheveldayoff must convince Maurice to sit down and discuss future plans. Stability is a rallying cry with True North and letting Maurice go at the end of the season would go against the stability motto. The Jets will have a busy offseason to begin with and they don’t need a coaching search to add to their to-do list.
- The Jets have four players representing their respective countries at the Olympics in Sochi. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec and winger Michael Frolik with the Czech Republic. Olli Jokinen with Finland and Blake Wheeler with Team USA.
- Paul Postma returned to the Jets lineup on Saturday, after suffering a blood clot in his leg back in October. He, along with Eric O’Dell have been assigned to St. John’s during the Olympic break.
- It has been a good season for some of the Jets prospects this season. Nic Petan is second in the WHL in scoring, recording 29 goals and 62 assists in 46 games with Portland. 2013 first round pick Josh Morrissey is putting up career high numbers for Prince Albert this season. His 19 goals and 32 assists from the blue line spot are a good sign for his and the Jets future. 2012 third round pick Scott Kosmachuk is having an outstanding season with Guelph of the OHL. His 38 goals and 38 assists in 53 games leads the team, and has been getting better as the season continues. 2013 fourth round pick Andrew Copp hasn’t put up gaudy numbers at the University of Michigan this season, (12 goals and 8 assists in 22 games) but he has been a solid two-way forward for the Maize and Blue this season. Copp will need seasoning, but could be a valuable depth player for the Jets in the coming years.
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