Following the Winnipeg Jets 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon, which extended the Jets losing streak to three games, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penned an outstanding piece on the Jets, and their lack of a structured system. Several anonymous Penguin players, (I do think one of them was Sidney Crosby) were quoted in saying that the Jets “had no plan for what they’re doing.” The Pens also said that the Jets are a “strange team” and had “no structure.”
It makes sense. The Jets couldn’t protect a 2-0 first period lead, nor a 5-4 second period lead, in a game where Crosby only had one measly assist. (Evgeni Malkin did record and an assist which didn’t hurt the Penguins) If what Kovacevic is reporting is the truth, (and I do believe it is the truth) this is the most damning comment ever made about Jets coach Claude Noel. This should set off alarm bells at True North Sports and Entertainment. But will it?
General manager Kevin Cheveladayoff has preached patience from day one, despite signing a 34-year-old Olli Jokinen to a two-year deal, plus trading a second round draft pick for Devin Setoguchi. Now comes criticism from one of the elite teams in the NHL. It should be noted that the only team the Penguins talked about in this fashion prior to the Jets, were the Buffalo Sabres when Ron Rolston, one of the worst coaches in the history of the NHL, was at the helm of the hapless Sabres. Again, sound the alarm bells.
It is no secret I’m not a Claude Noel fan. After all, I did write a piece on this very website suggesting a coaching change would be good for the Jets. I do think this will happen, but since the cupboard is rather bare in terms of coaching candidates at this moment, it may be wise to wait until the end of the season, to bring in someone new, to chart the flight plan.
But this isn’t all on just Noel either. The patience sermon sounds all well and good. Build through the draft, let the prospects mature, the future is bright. Can I get an amen from the congregation? But here’s a scenario people must think about. What if the draft picks don’t work out? Sure Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba look like keepers. In fact, the Jets may have hit a home run with Trouba. However, two first round picks that work out doesn’t translate to success. Sure, the Chicago Blackhawks built their championship team on two high draft picks, (Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane) but it was later round picks such as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, plus timely trades that saw Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya come to Chicago, and play vital roles on the Hawks Stanley Cup Championship team last season. Don’t forget, Chicago also paid big money to sign Marian Hossa as an unrestricted free agent. That move has worked out beautifully for the Hawks.
What Cheveldayoff and the rest of the management team better realize is that you need more than just successful first round picks to succeed in the NHL. (The jury is still out on Josh Morrissey after an OK but not spectacular World Junior tournament.) If later round picks such as Adam Lowry, Nicolas Petan, Eric Comrie, Andrew Copp, Jimmy Lodge, etc. don’t work out, the Jets could very well be headed down the same path as the Edmonton Oilers, who are currently on year 7 of a 5 year rebuilding plan. Yes, the Oilers are full of young talent, and I like players such as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Unfortunately for the Oilers, they haven’t built properly around those terrific young players and they are being wasted. The Jets can’t afford to waste Scheifele, Trouba and Evander Kane before reaching their primes.
As it stands right now, the Jets are caught between a rock and a hard place. The current core such as Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien are at the peaks of their careers. It is highly unlikely that these players can perform at a higher level, than where they are at now. The Jets currently sit six points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the last playoff spot. To make matters worse, the Coyotes have four games in hand on the Jets. (It should be noted that the Jets and Coyotes have three head-to-head matches before the end of the season.) If the Jets fall further back in the playoff race, which is a good possibility, Cheveldayoff will have to re-assess on where the team is going. It is very possible that Noel is gone at the end of the season, but it is also very possible that some of the veterans could be dealt at the deadline. Rumours are rampant that Wheeler and Byfuglien could be had at the right price. There is talk as well that goalie Ondrej Pavelec could be a compliance buyout at the end of the season.
The Penguins said some harsh yet truthful words about the Jets. One can only hope the Jets were listening.
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