Recently Bob McCowan of Prime Time Sports stated he knows of at least three players who want out of Winnipeg. Whether the statement is true or not, it raises the spectre of a concern that could prove to be very real one for Jets fans and management: that NHL players won’t want to play there.
Firstly, the McCowan rumor is concerning for several reasons, not the least of which is the still unresolved Zach Bogosian signing. Little has been said about the club’s most important remaining free agent even though the off-season is creeping towards it’s dusk. The former third overall pick had a rough ride as a Thrasher under the previous regime last year, so it’s possible that unpleasant experience plus the inevitability of moving to the frigid confines of the Canadian prairies has caused him to play hard ball with the club. Outside of players who are looking to score big pay-days, like Steven Stamkos and Shea Weber, RFA negotiations are usually fairly routine. It’s therefore rather unsual for them to drag on for this length of time unless there’s some reason for the delay on one side or the other. If Bogosian is angling for a trade out of town, he and his agent can obfuscate the matter until the team has little choice but to move him. Something similar recently happened to the Calgary Flames, who were forced to trade former first round pick Tim Erixon to the NY Rangers, because the player was unwilling to sign his ELC with Calgary.
Beyond the Bogosian issue, the broader concern is one of the club trying to acquire and retain talent going forward. If players are already itching to leave without having played a single game in town, the Jets are obviously going to have some problems when it comes to building their roster down the road.
Of course, there really is only one way to make Winnipeg a destination of choice for NHLers: create a winning organization. The Detroit Red Wings, for example, have no problems gathering talent or signing their existing superstars because the franchise is well known for it’s class and ability to field a quality club. This despite the fact that Detroit is hardly a pristine paradise.
For Winnipeg, that will mean bucking the habits of mediocrity and ineptitude that were previously established in Atlanta. Make no mistake, the new Jets franchise has a number of challenges it must overcome if the move back to Winnipeg is going to be a permanent one. The best and quickest way to overcome those issues would be to start winning…sooner rather than later.