The 2011-2012 Winnipeg Jets season concluded on Saturday night, with the Jets falling short of making the playoffs. It was an eventful season, filled with many highs and lows. After spending the season, evaluating the club, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff really goes to work now. Changes will be forthcoming. So let’s look back at each player for the Jets and see where the future lies.
Ondrej Pavelec was the Jets MVP this season and should be a fixture between the pipes for many years to come. Pavelec is a restricted free agent, so signing him should be top priority for Cheveldayoff. Pavelec will be asking for a nice raise as he is “only” making $1.15 million per season. Don’t be surprised if the Czech netminder asks for 3-4 million per year. Backup Chris Mason was solid for the Jets but is an unrestricted free agent. Mason is making $1.85 million and could be on the move. The Jets would like to have him back but money could be an issue.
The defence corps were solid for the most part but could use some upgrading. A lack of depth on the blueline hurt the Jets when injuries hit. Zach Bogosian is the Jets best defenceman and the future of the back-end. At only 21 years of age, Bogosian’s future is bright and is developing into an excellent defenceman.
Dustin Byfuglien was a fan favourite at the MTS Centre but still lacks consistency in his game. Big Buff does have a booming shot and brings a physical presence but can be lazy and disinterested at times. Tobias Enstrom was solid for the most part but did struggle late in the season. His small stature can be a detriment as he does take a beating from opposition power forwards.
Ron Hainsey had a disappointing year as he had trouble adjusting to Winnipeg. Hainsey may be better off in a market where hockey isn’t the lead sport but his $4.5 million cap hit makes him difficult to move. Hainsey does become a UFA after next season.
Mark Stuart is the blood and guts of the defence and should stick around next year. No one on the Jets blocks more shots and sacrifices his body more than Stuart.
Grant Clitsome came over from Columbus on waivers late in the season and showed he can play in this league. He should gain a spot on the roster next season.
Randy Jones most likely won’t be back as he becomes a UFA on July 1. Jones didn’t play well and sat on the press box on more than one occasion.
Mark Flood wasn’t given a fair shake by the coaching staff and might leave for greener pastures. Flood has potential but saw little ice time. He is an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
A group that was fun to watch but lacked discipline at times, the Jets were offensively challenged at times but did manage to find the back of the net with more frequency later in the season. Evander Kane led the team with 30 goals, a career high for the 20-year-old youngster. Kane needs to mature as he known to take undisciplined penalties at inopportune times. Kane was also surrounded with some off-ice controversy with made headlines across the Winnipeg tabloids. He’ll be a good one, but Kane will need to grow up fast if he wants to be part of the long-term success of the Jets. Kane is a restricted free agent on July 1 so signing him is key for the Jets. Kane will play for Team Canada at the upcoming World Hockey Championships in May.
Captain Andrew Ladd embraced the city in the summer by signing a long-term extension and rewarded the Jets brass with 28 goals this season. Ladd is the leader of the team but also needs to mature a bit as well. Perhaps the pressure got to Ladd at times as he needed to adjust to playing in a hockey mad market so I expect big things from Ladd in 2012-13. Ladd will join Kane at the World Hockey Championships next month, representing Team Canada.
Blake Wheeler was the breakout star for the Jets this season. Recording a team high 63 points this season, Wheeler blossomed into a dynamic performer blessed with speed and size. The one fault in Wheeler’s game is that he doesn’t shoot the puck enough. If Wheeler could change his mentality slightly by looking shot first instead of pass, he will become lethal in the offensive zone. Wheeler becomes a restricted free agent in 2013 so his contract could be an issue next season.
Bryan Little got off to a slow start this season, not scoring his first goal until November 8. But the fifth year centre got his game going in the second half of the season and ended up with 24 goals. Little suffered a broken foot in December forcing him to miss a month of action but returned without feeling any ill effects. The trio of Little, Wheeler and Ladd was the best line the Jets had this season and fans are hoping that line stays together next season. LIttle is set to become a restricted free agent next season.
Alexander Burmistrov has potential beyond his years but the 20-year-old Russian needs to mature his game. Burmistrov is very talented but too many times, he tries the overly fancy play instead of making the safe one. Burmistrov also tends to get discouraged when things aren’t going his way and will disappear from games when discouraged. Hopefully he will grow some more and become a top flight player. He is set to become a restricted free agent next season.
Kyle Wellwood emerged as a nice surprise this season. Signing a one year deal at the bargain basement price at $700,000, Wellwood had a quality season, chalking up 18 goals and 29 assists this season. Wellwood came into training camp in the best condition of his career and his play reflected that. He did miss the last 5 games of the season due to a broken foot so his health in the offseason will be a concern. He is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and will be looking for a raise. Chances of Wellwood coming back are 50/50 at best.
Jim Slater has a good season for the Jets, scoring 11 goals, and emerging as a crowd favourite for his physical play. As part of the GST line with Tanner Glass and Chris Thorburn, Slater take no prisoners style is a welcoming sight for the Jets who need more physical players on the team. Slater is unrestricted on July 1 and will be looking to make more than his $1 million he was making last season. The Jets would love to have him back, but it is uncertain whether Slater will return.
Chris Thorburn is a physical presence that the MTS Centre crowd adores. One of the toughest players on the team, Thorburn isn’t afraid to drop the gloves with the other team’s heavyweight. A well-respected player, Thorburn will be back next year and is hoping to improve on his 4 goal season.
Tanner Glass came over from Vancouver in the offseason, and brought some vinegar and spice to the lineup. Glass is set to become unrestricted on July 1 and his future his uncertain with the club. The Regina native is making $750,000 this season and will be looking for a raise. His return is 50/50.
Antti Miettinen came over from Minnesota via the waiver wire in December and is a solid defensive forward. The Finn is very responsible in his own end and could develop into a dependable checking line winger. Miettinen should be back next season as he does have one more year left in his contract but could be trade bait in the draft.
Nik Antropov will be forever remembered as the player to score the first goal in Jets history since their return. The big Kazakhstan forward battled injures and inconsistent play but managed to find a home on the fourth line with Tim Stapleton and Antti Miettinen late in the season. Antropov will most likely be a Jet next season as he has one more year left on his contract that pays him $4 million a season. If Antropov wants to stay in Winnipeg, he’ll have to step up his game or take a pay cut.
Tim Stapleton is a solid player despite his small stature. However he needs to pick up his offensive production if he wants to remain with the club. A versatile player, Stapleton is unrestricted on July 1 and has a cloudy future with the team. He could very well have a new home next season.
Eric Fehr battled injuries and inconsistent play all season and will very likely not return. The Winkler, Manitoba native came over from Washington in a trade in the offseason but failed to produce. The Jets are unlikely to make him a qualifying offer which will make Fehr an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
Spencer Macachek spent most of the year in St. John’s in the AHL, but was called up late in the season and impressed coaches and fans with his play. A physical player with offensive flair, Macachek will be given every opportunity to make the club in training camp. He is a restricted free agent on July 1, but the Jets will most likely give him a qualifying offer and he should be in camp in September.
Patrice Cormier spent most of the season in St. John’s but will be given a chance to make the team in training camp. Cormier brings size and grit to a roster that desperately needs it. Don’t be surprised to see Cormier with the Jets next season.
First round draft pick Mark Scheifele started the season with the big club, but was sent down to Barrie of the OHL after 10 games, scoring only one goal. Scheifle may need another year of seasoning before being ready for NHL play. While talented, Scheifele will need to bulk up and get stronger on the puck, if he wants to stay with the Jets.
Ivan Telegin played the entire season at St. John’s but scouts are impressed with the young Russian and he does have a chance at making the team next season.
Claude Noel had his share of ups and downs, but management was pleased with Noel and his job is safe going into next season. Noel is a smart coach and knows which buttons to push with his players. However, his decision-making during games is questionable at times. He sometimes waits too long to call timeout or make a goalie change when the game starts to get away from the Jets. Noel can be bristly with the media as well, which can lead to some entertaining quotes, but that act can wear down the players as well. Noel will have to tone it down a touch with the media, however he is very good at not putting individual players under the bus. The pressure will be on Noel next season to make the playoffs though.
Assistants Charlie Huddy, Pascal Vincent and Wade Flaherty all should be back next season. Huddy has been singled out for praise by Zach Bogosian for helping out the young defenceman. Huddy could be a head coach in the future.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff used a patient approach and the results will be more conclusive in the future. Unlike his counterpart in Toronto, Brian Burke, Cheveldayoff is very quiet and prefers to do his work behind the scenes. I like Chevy and I do like the direction the club his going under his leadership. With the draft coming up in June, look for Cheveldayoff to bring in some size and grit up front.
Chairman Mark Chipman was disappointed that the Jets didn’t make the playoffs this season but was pleased with the progress the Jets made and was thrilled with the fans support. Money isn’t an issue with True North as the Jets made enough money that they didn’t qualify for the revenue sharing program. Chipman and David Thomson are willing to put the capital in, to make this club successful.
2011-12 was a honeymoon period for the fans and an evaluation period for management. However all bets are off next year as the pressure to make the playoffs will be high. It is how the players react to this pressure could define the future of the Winnipeg Jets.