July 11 2011 11:28PM
Wanye and Cam have us off to a good start here at Jets Nation, so it seems like the proper time to add a few thoughts of my own about the events that have transpired since that night in May when Stephen Brunt broke the news that so many of us had waited 15 years to hear.
The return of a team to Winnipeg is one of those surreal moments that I could never quite get a hold of in the abstract. There just wasn’t any reason for the NHL to retrace its steps to a city that it had left 15 years previous, or so it seemed. After a while the majority of us, as I mentioned back in May, had mostly moved on.
Mostly, but never quite completely, of course, which is why the reaction in these parts over the last six weeks has been so rapturous. Something that seemed a silly fantasy for more than a decade was really, actually happening. I was somewhat bemused by several of my fellow citizens making a ruckus at the draft three weekends ago in St. Paul, and yet even an old cynic like me had to acknowledge that their full-throated response to regaining a place in NHL fandom was fully justified.
Those fans, like so many of us, had a belly full of being told that their interest and dollars weren’t welcome, and that they were loons for ever thinking that the events of May 31st and thereafter could happen. With that in mind, the period between the announcement of the Thrashers’ relocation and the draft was a very satisfying time for local fans, with hosannas for Mark Chipman for his efforts, as well as for themselves after a wildly successful ticket campaign. That was all reasonable enough, since it isn’t every day that a city’s wound gets healed via the sort of reversal of fortune we’ve witnessed here.
At some juncture though, happy fun time has to be replaced by honest assessment, and that’s roughly the point we sit at today. The serious business of trying to build a decent franchise from the half-formed work of Don Waddell and his minions is underway in earnest, and with that, Jets Nation launches with the aim of chronicling those efforts.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll examine in detail the players that are relocating from Atlanta, the free agent/trade additions, and the future Jets that make up the prospect pool. This team has mastered the business end of things with the sort of aplomb that True North is renowned for, but creating an on-ice product worthy of the money is another matter entirely, so that will become the focus of this site as the summer proceeds.
With that in mind, here are some general impressions from the last three weeks. First, as Kent Wilson can attest, I was taken aback the selection of Mark Scheifele with the 7th pick, and I can only hope Ducky’s intel on the young man is worth more than Sean Couturier’s two seasons of actual play. I don’t think the kid’s a bust pick, and when wearing my other hat over at FN, I would have been content with him at 13. Still, odd.
The additions of Tanner Glass and Rick Rypien are equally strange, in that neither is likely to be sent to the AHL, and neither of them appear to offer the slightest likelihood of being more than mediocrities at the NHL level. Rypien in particular has one skill that is falling out of favour in the league as coaches increasingly target one-dimensional fighters with their best players.
On the positive side, getting Andrew Ladd on the bus for the next five years is all good. He’s already a grown-up at 25, capable of playing against good players in all situations. Those gents don’t grow on trees, and most players that can handle the sort of load he’s tasked with aren’t that young.
I’m OK with his salary as well, if for no other reason than the taxes on high-income earners here are extortionate. Paying a few hundred K over the market might be the way of the world for this organization as they move forward, so if they are going to spend a bit extra, they need to ensure the players in question are likely to be worth the bother. Ladd’s worth it.
I’m also on board with the Eric Fehr acquisition, and I hope that it might be a plan of attack for Cheveldayoff as the summer continues and teams shed useful players to get under the salary cap. The average 4th round pick has about a 10% chance of making the bigs, so getting a live body that projects into the top nine once his shoulder heals is excellent value. The fact that he’s a neighbourhood guy is good as well, I suppose, although it isn’t like they have a pile of tickets to sell anytime soon, so that factor is secondary to his potential to help a weak right side.
Fehr’s addition still finds the club, at least in my view, two forwards short of a proper top nine, and Waddell’s serial mismanagement left the team with a barren system unlikely to provide any sort of decent skaters beyond a couple of young defenders in Postma and Kulda. I’ve been covering the Flames the last few years, and their farm system looks like the ‘70’s Habs by comparison.
Cheveldayoff’s charge the rest of this summer and beyond has to be improving the quality of forwards in the organization. The good ones on the current roster are mostly young enough that there’s a bit of leeway for the team, but any injuries at all would expose the Jets pretty quickly.
I suppose that does leave open the question of what the precise goal of the organization is for this season. I’m no fan of tanking, largely because it’s a lousy way to treat your paying customers, and I’m one of those paying customers, so competitive hockey might be nice. I’ll leaving cheering for the first pick to Oiler fans, thanks very much.
Still, if a team was ever going to not try very hard to win, the Jets have enough good will to get away with it for at least a year, and after this season there’s every chance that the league’s CBA will look quite different, so not over-committing might be smart, if a bit disappointing for those of us that will spend our nights in the pews.
At any rate, at least we’re talking about NHL hockey in a place that’s been starving for it since April of 1996, and as someone who watched the first iteration of the Jets abandon my city for the desert all those years ago, it feels pretty damned good to have the game's best returning to Winnipeg for more than a few scruffy exhibitions. October 9th can't come soon enough.