Blake Wheeler: Team’s Leading Scorer Needs Help Up Front.
Even if you haven’t watched a Winnipeg Jets game this season, all you need to do is look at the numbers to know what this team needs.
At the All-Star break, the Jets are 22nd overall in goals scored at 2.45 per game. The team’s leading scorer, Blake Wheeler, has nine goals and 33 points. He is 81st in scoring in the NHL. The team’s leading goal scorer, Evander Kane, has 18 and is tied for 28th in the NHL but was in the midst of a 10-game goal scoring drought when he suffered a concussion (Last Friday? No one is quite sure) and was lost indefinitely.
The Jets have scored 124 goals in 50 games this season. Only the Panthers (122 in 48 games), Islanders (115 in 48) and Sabres (119 in 49) have scored fewer, but as you can see, the Jets have played more games. Of course, while the Jets have 124 total, they scored nine in one game against Philadelphia. The Jets are actually one game away from being the lowest-scoring team in the Eastern Conference. As a group the Jets are also a minus-19.
In the month of January, the Jets are 3-8-1 with one game remaining, Tuesday night in Philadelphia. To date, the Jets are 22-22-6. Last season, as the Atlanta Thrashers, they were 23-18-9 after 50 games. In 11-plus games (counting two overtimes) this month, the Jets have scored a meagre 20 goals.
Now, to be fair, they played part of the month without Kane, Zach Bogosian and Alex Burmistrov and they have played the entire month without their all-star, Dustin Byfuglien. At the start of the season, everyone knew this team was thin, but January has proven that little nugget beyond a shadow of a doubt.
As February approaches, it has become quite clear that the Jets need scoring help. This is not a team that takes nights off. It’s work ethic is pretty much beyond reproach. Still, the people who run this team know it can’t score. And it becomes especially weak up front when certain players — like Byfuglien, Kane and Burmistrov — go down with injuries.
So as the 2012 trade deadline looms (Feb. 27), what should Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and his brain trust do? Does he move his veteran grinders and build for the future? Or does he deal prospects and draft picks, try to find a scorer and take a run at the playoffs?
Right now, the Jets could use three things:
1. A scorer, obviously, but that’s not an easy thing to acquire. For example, if Ryan Getzlaff or Bobby Ryan are actually available in Anaheim, who could the Jets trade to get them? Who would interest a team like the Ducks? Making trades are an art AND a science and big ones don’t just happen over a glass of cognac at the all-star break.
2. A tough guy. The Jets don’t always open up enough space for the guys who can put the puck in the net. They’re also at a point where they need Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart to fight for them. Yes, yes, we all want fighting eliminated from hockey, blah, blah, blah, but the fact is fighting has not been eliminated and the Jets don’t have a guy who can stop a player like Shawn Thornton of the Bruins from running their goalies and punding the crap out of defensemen they need in the lineup.They also need a guy who can drop the gloves on the road, win a fight without getting hurt and pick up the team.
3. Depth. Two injuries and this team can’t recover. The Pittsburgh Penguins have the personnel to stay in the hunt without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang. The Jets lose Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian and it’s downhill all the way.
When the team in Winnipeg at the start of the 2011-12 season, Cheveldayoff and company made it clear that the new organization would be patient. They would not do anything rash and would build with youth and draft picks. After all, they had 3-5 years of sold-out buildings and they knew their fans would also be patient and wait for them to build a legitimate contender.
Trouble is, they’ve talked all year about making the playoffs. The two aren’t necessarily exclusive, but…