I must admit, I don’t put a lot of faith in reports that suggest, "the Jets owner was outraged by a loss." Or that the GM has been told, "Check the game tape and figure out what’s wrong."
Nobody likes to lose. Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff had every right to be angry on Saturday evening. I’m told they were, although I didn’t see it, but more than a handful of Winnipeggers tell me that the owner and GM went right off the edge after their hockey team blew a 1-0 lead late in the third period and lost 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils.
Problem is, there is no sense getting angry. The Jets brass needs to do something.
After Saturday night’s loss, here are the numbers: the Jets are 20-19-5, 10th in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the eighth-place Pittsburgh Penguins. After going 10-3-1 with 12 of 14 games at home in December, the Jets are 1-5-0 in January. They went 1-3-0 on a four-game road trip and then lost two straight at home: San Jose beat them 2-0 and New Jersey beat them 2-1. They have scored one goal in two home games this month and a total of nine goals in the first six games of 2012.
But that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the fact that three of the team’s biggest players are out of the lineup. Dustin Byfuglien (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) says he probably won’t be back until after the All-Star game. Zach Bogosian (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) is day-to-day, but is not on the trip to Ottawa (Monday) and New Jersey (Tuesday). Neither is Blake Wheeler (6-foot-5, 205 pounds), who was hit in the neck by a shot on Saturday night and spent Saturday and Sunday morning in the hospital for observation.
Monday night the Jets play the Ottawa Senators, a team they’re chasing. Well, sort of. The Senators have gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 and moved 11 points ahead of the Jets in the East. In the last three games, the Sens went from five points ahead of Winnipeg to 11. They’ll play those games without three of the strongest players on the club and they have no one in the organization to even begin to fill the holes.
So what to do?
The Jets need (a) a scorer, (b) a tough guy and (c) some depth up front. As coach Claude Noel said after the team’s loss on Saturday, "We’re all disappointed in the result, but I was happy the way our team worked. They played with some will. I like that. These guys care. They care about each other and the results. They’re doing the best they can with what we have."
I can’t say that Noel was taking a shot at the boys upstairs, but over the past couple of weeks Noel has made a few remarks that suggest he’s not entirely happy with what he has. Granted, he hasn’t come right out and complained, but he’s a smart guy. He has the ability to take a shot without offending anyone.
It’s clear that the Jets have two choices: (1) They can continue along the same road with the players they have and hope the team can play through the injuries and turn the season around. It seemed to be the plan when the franchise arrived from Atlanta, so it would be understandable if Cheveldayoff and Chipman stayed the course. (2) The GM can go out and make some deals. He has publicly admitted that he’s looking, but says there is nothing available that fits into the Jets plans. Many people thought claiming home town boy Colton Orr off waivers would have been an easy way to address the toughness problem, but the Jets had no interest.
Cheveldayoff says he will not panic. The new owners and the new management team are still assessing the talent on the club.
And that’s fine, but a lot of the team’s most loyal fans are beginning to lose patience and while the rink is sold out for five years, the honeymoon won’t last forever.