By Scott Swail
In 2017-18, Winnipeg was second in the NHL standings. A year later we were 10th. In 2019-20, we were 20th. Last year we were 14th in a crap-storm of a year. This year we are 18th, which is probably where we will end. I doubt we go down to 19th and I’m not betting we make 17th.
Winnipeg spends at the cap. The team spends as much as the top teams in the NHL. I guess if the Jets are complacent with being middle-feeders or also rans at that spending level, I guess that’s okay. But if it was my money, I’d be pretty darn disappointed in 2.0.11. The Winnipeg Jets reside in the bottom half of the league. My elementary-level fiduciary analysis suggests that management is misusing funds. Put another way, Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t getting the value out of $81M that other teams are getting.
One might surmise that there exists a fine line between great teams and average teams, but that really isn’t true. I look at Colorado, Tampa, and a handful of other teams and think: Winnipeg is not nearly as good as those teams. Winnipeg has some elite players: Scheifele; Wheeler; Hellebuyck; Connor; Ehlers; Stastny; Dubois; Morrissey. But the team isn’t well balanced. The bottom six is patchwork at best. Lowry is consistently good and tough and great in the circle, but the addition of Appleton doesn’t come close to making up for Copp. I like Harkins’ gung-ho style. The kid has game. But the others: Brooks, Sanford, Svechnikov, Toninato, and Vesalainen are pedestrian at best. Every team has to make it work. But for Winnipeg, the team is spending too much on the top side and not getting their money’s worth from some of their elites. Wheeler and Pionk come to immediate mind, but I even give Pierre Luc Dubois a borderline C for his play this year. Sure, everyone was ready to put this guy on a statue in November, but he has taken a slide. He has 2 points in his last 5 games; 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 10; and 51 points in 68 games. Not bad, but not near elite. He can mix it up and has attitude, which is what you want. But he also is slow and tends to take a nap some games or periods. We thought that trade looked pretty good in the fall. Patrik Laine, who is currently a point per game, seems like the better deal.
Let’s play a game. Has Winnipeg played a solid 60-minute game this year? Perhaps, but I can’t remember any. We’ve played solid 40 minutes and 20 minutes, but not three periods in a row. I’m sure there might have been one or two in there, but that isn’t the Jets’ DNA right now. I can’t find the stat, but we must be the league leader in periods with the lowest number of shots. We are middling for average shots per game (12th in the league at 32.5).
Without something spectacular happening this summer, this team is pretty much as it will be next year. A few names and positions will flip, but in the end, the team will look very similar. Perhaps Cole Perfetti adds a dimension to the top six next year, but beyond that, there isn’t much to get excited about. I have faith in Samberg and Heinola, but they aren’t game changers. Or team changers. They are average to slightly above average.
So, what gives? Trade Scheifele? Sure. But what would we get in return that is better beyond a first-round draft pick and a player? So that doesn’t change the team. Winnipeg is better having Scheifele on the team. At the end of his contract, if he doesn’t want to go anywhere (and he might), I’d sign him to another six years. Blake Wheeler isn’t tradable, and he is still a very good player. The days are getting long for him. Regardless, at 35, a team isn’t going to give a usable player for his services. Winnipeg needs to move two defenseman this summer, and if you look at our D, it doesn’t inspire greatness. Pionk has been very average this year after a couple of great seasons. One of either Dillon or Schmidt need to go. I’m not sure which one. But that’s $10M in cap space right there. I’ve said it before, this team can’t have a D like this at a cost of $30M/year (second highest in the league). The D needs to be better at a lower cost. Perhaps Samberg, Heinola, and Stanley can help with the cost, but I don’t know if they make us better.
This is a tough place for the Jets right now. The team isn’t very good and they aren’t going to get any better keeping with status quo. Chevy’s hands are pretty much tied because of current contracts and losing some draft picks over the years. He wrote them all.
If the Winnipeg Jets are going to try and fix this, it likely starts with a management house cleaning, from the GM on down to the assistant coaches. They need to find a coach who can bring in his assistants and make it work with the current lineup. My choice is Mike Babcock because he is a Stanley Cup winner and a quality coach and a hard ass. This teams needs that type of personality. And the Jets need a new GM with a different approach. I think Chevy has done a good job. But it hasn’t been good enough considering our “At the Cap” spending. After 11 years, something has to give.