by Scott Swail

The Winnipeg Jets’ loss last night against the Colorado Avalanche made clear that this is not a playoff team. Winnipeg hasn’t been a true playoff team for four years, to be fair. Last year’s sweep of the Oilers in the first round was some freak of nature, and the Gods quickly got together and rectified that error in the second round, where the lowly Habs (16th seeded) plastered the Jets in quick fashion.

But last night—a night where the Jets got off to a spectacular start—turned into an exhibition of why things must change for 2.0. Twitterverse and Facebook users were both incensed and despondent after the game. “Bring Paul Maurice Back.” “Trade Wheeler and Scheifele.” “Trade Hellebuyck.” “This team sucks.” “Come on, Chipman, do something.” The poisoned arrows were not kind, nor did they necessarily make sense. But the natives are restless, and their restlessness may push True North to make some significant changes in the next few weeks; most certainly in the next few months. But not today. Players aren’t moving this week; the coach isn’t being removed. But change is coming.

After last night’s debacle, the Jets find themselves 11 points out of a wildcard spot with their playoff hopes effectively in the trash. They have blown several chances in the last month to move up the ladder, but instead lost games they should have won and lost games they were supposed to lose. There were a few great outliers, but they were few. Winnipeg is a .500 team at best. Well, one game above .500. I expect that the Jets will likely finish 20-25 points out of a wild card spot at this point as the teams closing in are winning and the others, like Winnipeg, are losing. So ground is being lost. This is a good time to suspend conversation of the 2022 NHL playoffs for the 2021-22 Winnipeg Jets. The train has left the station for 2022-23.

We are left with only a few major questions: (1) What does the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Club do at the trade deadline? And (2) What do they do for free agency?

Everyone wants a change, but change is difficult in a salary-capped NHL with red tape on RFAs. The biggest problem for Winnipeg is that it isn’t the team of 2017-18: it isn’t on a winning trajectory and no one looks at their current lineup and think that this is a contender. At the start of the season some of us though they would be. On paper, the team looked good, bolstered by the acquisition of Schmidt and Dillon to solve the defensive woes from last year. But two thirds through the season, outcomes supplant predictions. While Schmidt and Dillon are bona fide D men, the D corps, writ large, isn’t getting the job done. And the forwards aren’t helping. Scheifele continues to be the biggest defensive tragedy, and he showed it again with his failing stick check on Landeskog’s third goal of the night.

Change will be difficult. What player wants to be traded to Winnipeg right now? None. Players beware of teams that don’t have a winning vibe. Let’s look at the real world of possibilities.

  1. For those who want management to trade Wheeler, sorry, but he isn’t going anywhere. He has another $16.5 million on his contract and you bet he is going to cash those checks. He would be crazy not to. Wheeler is embedded here, will retire here, and have his jersey hoisted to the ceiling of “Whatever We Are Going to Call the Arena This Year.”  Unless, of course, he asks for a trade. But even so, no one will take that contract for a 35-year-old. I always thought he might be interested in a trade to Minnesota for his final years, but Minnesota would want to make that happen, too. I can’t see any of the other 31 teams taking over his $8.25M contract. Wheeler is staying and he can still serve us well.
  2. Scheifele, on the other hand, really may go, and go soon. I think there is a 50/50 chance that the Jets move Scheifele at the trade deadline. Even though he remains about a point a game player, which is very rare in the NHL, his defensive liability takes some of that away. The worst part of it is that Scheif doesn’t seem to be playing with heart, which is a player killer. I think it is just time to let him try somewhere else and us get something worthwhile in exchange. He’ll always be a Jet and in 10 years will be playing at the Heritage Classic in a Jets jersey. And at a $6M annual contract, he is very attractive to teams that want to go deep in the playoffs this year and next. The cost will be a top six player plus at least one first rounder. Perhaps a second-round pick, too. Hard to tell. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he stays, but he needs a new coach to light a fire.
  3. Hellebuyck isn’t going anywhere. That is just such an ignorant perspective. His cost is $4.4M/year less than Carey Price and he delivers most nights. Is he played too much? I don’t think so. As long as he gets one day between games, no. Otherwise, then I guess we overplay all players. He can take it, needs a better protection system in front of him, and yes, needs to watch some of those tough goals. Trading Hellebuyck would simply be the stupidest thing this team could do. If you think they should pull the plug, then you’re in that category, too.
  4. The coaching carousel will go into full tilt action. Dave Lowry is Dead Coach Walking. He was given a chance, but only a haphazard chance of success. If you lift the assistant coach up and use the exact same systems as his predecessor, the chances for success are miniscule. Sure, it worked for Berube in St. Louis and seems to be working for Boudreau in Vancouver, but those were tough guys that came in and tossed everything upside down. We needed that type of guy and Dave Lowry is just too nice. This is why I am a big Mike Babcock fan. He kicks butt and is an awesome hockey guy. He is coaching in Saskatchewan pro bono right now. Good for him. Let’s take him (hear that? That is twitterverse getting ready to launch!)
  5. Paul Maurice is not coming back. That was the funniest post last night. Paul isn’t coming back and we don’t want him back. I’d consider him as GM, but that probably isn’t a good idea. In PoMo’s own words, he can’t take this team any further. I just wish the management had figured this out two years ago and when it was plain to many of us. Fans didn’t see this, and then they did. Now they don’t. Fandom is crazy.
  6. The Jets will get a top player. BUT… if they do, it will cost us so much that it probably won’t be worth it. As conservative as True North is, and they are perhaps the most conservative team in the league, they may make a fatal move that could cost the team a few years. We’ll find out if they have spine or if they have too much spine. Not sure how this goes, but I do know that…
  7. Kevin Cheveldayoff will be out of here. If they don’t make a GM change—a guy who has drafted “okay,” but not exceedingly fabulous, a guy whose team lucked out in moving from 6 to 2 in the 2016 entry draft to get Laine (who isn’t here anymore and is now finally killing it in Columbus), and has drafted more left handed shooters than anyone I can remember—then I don’t know what the management wants with this team. The left hander issue has left this team with a systemic problem in terms of diversifying their strategy and play. To me, this if anything else, is reason to let him go. It may seem like small potatoes for some, but it is a long-term problem for Winnipeg.

Ahhh. I could go on. The Jets are in a tough place, and that place resides outside of the NHL playoffs. Start your engines, kids. This is going to get interesting.