UFA 2012 – First Day Thoughts

 Ponikarovsky – OT winner vs. Philadelphia

The first day of free agency seems to have settled into a holding pattern until the big boys make up their minds, so it’s time for a few thoughts on Winnipeg’s activities thus far. After the jump, the Jets lose two popular gents while adding one player that might well turn out to be a pretty good bargain.

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One of the interesting things about having a team back in town this past year has been observing the manner in which the media has picked its favourites. The process, from my occasional observation of the pack at work, has been based largely on the willingness of certain players to present an affable face in public. Given that a player’s conduct with the press can affect the pleasantness of their working circumstances, I suppose that’s not wholly unexpected, and hardly a phenomenon limited to this city, but it does tend to really distort how players are presented to the broader public.

As a result, a 4th line plumber that spent an entire season getting torched by competition beyond his skills ended up being someone that fans actually thought was a significant loss. Tanner Glass is a well-spoken fellow with an expensive education and all that, but he’s not anywhere within hailing distance of being a top-nine NHL forward on a decent team. His relocation to Pittsburgh will see him resume his proper role as a guy that plays about 7 minutes a night against other plumbers, and to be blunt, as a player, he’s utterly replaceable. The Penguins will be very good next year, and winning while not playing very much might well be more enjoyable than playing 10-13 minutes a night on a crap team, so that was probably the calculus at work for him. 

The other Jet to sign elsewhere today was Chris Mason, and for largely the same reasons as Tanner Glass, he was well-regarded, in that the good feelings directed his way really weren’t connected to what he did on the ice. Players do need to produce, though, and if you’re of the opinion that Ondrej Pavelec could have used another 10 nights off last season, then a better backup than Mason might have been nice to have.

It was fairly evident that the coaching staff didn’t trust Mason very much last year, and that absence of trust appeared to be well earned, because a goalie sporting the sort of numbers Mason posted wouldn’t inspire much trust from any sensible person. I did find it interesting that he advised the Jets that he thought Nashville was a better spot because they were a better team. When Suter walks tomorrow, that might look like an iffier proposition, but as always, it’s his choice and good luck to him.

On the addition side, Alexei Ponikarovsky is leaving the violent swamps of Jersey for Winnipeg. Same difference, only colder, I guess. Jokes aside, Poni’s a proper third line LW with good size, a commodity that the Jets were a bit light on last year. His underlying numbers last year were really solid, and after a lost 10/11 in L.A., his offence came back a bit as well. I don’t think anyone would expect his scoring to get back to what he posted in Toronto, but 30-35 points against decent competition would be good value for 1.8 million.

All in all, it was a fairly placid day for the Jets, with many players around the league waiting for the Parise/Suter duopoly to settle their plans before choosing where to spend next year and beyond. In terms of ongoing needs for the team, Winnipeg didn’t have enough real NHLers last year, and they still clearly have a hole or two to fill up front, since the club hasn’t precisely replaced Wellwood’s production with Poni’s signing. I have no idea where they stand with Wellwood as of this evening, but keeping him around and getting more normal production from Miettinen might get the team a bit closer to having nine top-nine forwards next year. Novel idea, I know, but one can always hope. 

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The Jets should still have some dough to spend even if they choose to throw the wallet at Evander Kane, so maybe one more competent defenceman might be on the wishlist as well, and that wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world either. The Poni signing wasn’t one that was part of the rumour mill before it happened, so as always with an organization as tight-lipped as Winnipeg’s, I imagine that we’ll likely spend the next few days grasping at some fairly slender reeds until announcements are made.