Photo by Micha Persson
Prior to this trade deadline, we talked about the idea that the team’s actions would give us a tell about the direction of the organization, and about how they perceived their window of opportunity. The action taken? Adding Mike Santorelli via waivers – a bubble player from the worst team in the league this season. I think we all wanted something more decisive, though fans seemed split between buying and selling, and a terrible streak of losing that saw the division title simply slip through our fingers peaked the frustration at our current management group.
We’re still left with the question of when this management group will choose to compete, and a further question of what they intend the roster to look like when they do.
The list of needs was known – a 2nd line scoring RW, a two-way LW, and a depth forward up front, an experienced depth defenceman on the back end. Cheveldayoff spoke about all of those, and the need for RW help in particular so we’re not out of sync with what management knows. The UFAs were also known, though not so high-end as to expect a fire sale – Hainsey, Antropov (who hurt himself at the deadline), Wellwood, Miettien, Clitsome. Friction with the coach meant Burmistrov’s name was in the twitter-verse on deadline day, and the team has a wealth of specialists and also-rans who might be a pro-scout favorite here or there.
Inaction at the deadline was an odd signal by the team – ostensibly letting go of any notion of competing for this season, but also not selling aggressively as one might expect in a rebuild scenario. Without a clear tell, I think it’s fair to wonder if the team has a clear direction.
Then where are we going?
Cheveldayoff has said he intends to build from within in Winnipeg, but, of course, the Thrashers were doing that for a decade under Don Waddell with one playoff birth to show for it. Immediately upon taking over, Rick Dudley overhauled the roster (to our continuing benefit) and began to add useful veteran pieces, including captain Andrew Ladd and Byfuglien from Chicago for what amounts at this stage to be prospects Kevin Hayes, Jeremy Morin, and Adam Clendening, and of course Wheeler from Boston for Rich Peverly and Boris Valabik. That’s very decisive.
(Dudley’s drafting history is less inspiring however, and I was relieved he was let go in the move. Though we can all be thankful to watch Evander Kane and Burmistrov – the two first rounders under his watch – we might have Head Scout Marcel “One Good Player Per Draft” Comeau to thank rather than Dudley.)
Adding established NHL hockey players continued somewhat under Cheveldayoff – Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky this season, Wellwood and Miettien (re-entry waivers) last year. Yet for the most part, the focus has been on Scheifele and Trouba, the top prospects in a currently shallow system. Are they the front of the wave for the Jets? I wrote this in the deadline preview:
While it can be tempting to look at the Penguins, Blackhawks, and so forth and point to the cluster of talent accumulated by being full-on bad, Jets fans should remember that the Trashers were just that for a long time. Zach Bogosian (3rd overall, 2008), Evander Kane (4th overall, 2009), Alex Burmistrov (8th overall, 2010), Mark Scheifele (7th overall, 2011), and Jacob Trouba (9th overall, 2012) represent the heart of the order, and the team has added other former top 10 picks in Blake Wheeler (5th overall, 2004) and Andrew Ladd (4th overall, 2004). Jokinen (3rd overall, 1997), Antropov (10th overall, 1998), Little (12th overall, 2006) and Hainsey (13th overall, 2000) come from the left half of the draft board as well.
Does this management group imagine Kane, Burmi, Scheifele, Bogo, and Trouba in their prime when the team looks for a playoff birth? In that case, keeping Hainsey in particular is poor asset management, and they may have underestimated just how much harder their schedule will get under realignment. If the team wants to compete and re-tool, rather than rebuild from scratch, then we can earnestly question whether management has an accurate team assessment.
I think there are two likely scenarios. First, management intends to tank next year when the schedule is that much harder, and is perhaps organizing to go after OHL phenom Connor McDavid in the 2015 draft. There might be a collage of OHL Rookie of the Year Winners in Cheveldayoff’s desk, and Aaron Ekblad may be written with hearts around it on the 2014/15 depth chart on the way to McDavid.
Second is that management got caught where the fans did – it would great to win the division and see playoff hockey in the MTS Centre (a feel good story and something to remember in the cold winters to come against Chicago and Minnesota), but prices at the deadline were high and the team wasn’t prepared to answer questions like ‘is Stafford better than Burmistrov for our long term plan?’ They simply didn’t have a clear plan beyond ‘wait and react.’
In either case, I fear we’re in for some long winters.