The word patience is really starting to annoy me. It has been thrown around Winnipeg sport franchises like no other as of late, and it has me really questioning how much longer fans in the city have to deal with it. The misconception that "just having a team back" is enough should really be wearing off soon, but it seems as if Chevy & Co. are going to hold on to it for as long as the majority of the fan base finds it acceptable. Therefore, I ask you – Do the Jets really deserve our patience any longer, or is it time to expect winning and playoff births from this team?
(To be fair, I cannot recall a direct time in which anyone within the Jets franchise has asked for patience from fans, but it seems to be the feeling “leaked out” via a lot of the Winnipeg media)
Why They (Chevy) Deserve Patience
Kevin Cheveldayoff has only had two-ish years to work with this team
Let’s be honest here. TNSE, Kevin Cheveldayoff and everyone involved with this team really did adopt a bit of a mess. No real prospects developing, only 1 playoff appearance in franchise history, the “loss” of the franchise leader in almost every scoring category for little immediate benefit… things weren’t exactly peachy when the Thrashers moved. Lots needed to be done to fix the apparent disaster that Winnipeg inherited. Despite the overwhelmingly long "to do" list, things were extremely rushed going into the 2011-12 season and the lockout took out a large chunk of the 2012-13 campaign. It could easily be argued that Kevin Cheveldayoff has still not had a complete “normal” season to properly evaluate the team and do his work. Certainly he deserves a little patience (in the term of one full season) to do something, right?
His Prospects need time to develop
I’ve always held a belief that it isn’t fair to completely evaluate and dismiss a general manager before a few of their prospects have developed. As I mentioned before, the franchise wasn’t exactly bursting at the seems with potential upon their arrival. With the number seven pick overall in the 2011 draft the yet-to-be-named Winnipeg franchise selected Mark Scheifele, a player who has yet to break into the NHL. It was very clear with that pick that the Jets were ready to take a slower approach in terms of prospect development as they left players like Sean Couturier and Dougie Hamilton (who were without a doubt more NHL-ready and have seen consistent NHL time already) on the board to take Mark. Scheif has seemingly come along very nicely, and 2012 first round pick Jacob Trouba has become a superstar in Winnipeg already, so I have a hard time completely dismissing Chevy until we can see how they perform with the big boys. That is of course assuming at least one of them can make that jump within the next year or two.
It is also worth mentioning how highly praised the franchise has been for their draft class this year. The Jets had one of the best overall drafts this year, leading many to believe that the future of this team could be quite successful. Maybe we should all just be patient enough for that crop of players to grow and develop?
Why They (Chevy) Don’t Deserve Any More Patience
Chevy has already had two-ish years with this team
And what has he really done with it? The Winnipeg Jets of today look a lot like the Atlanta Thrashers of 2010-11, and still have many of the same organizational problems. Despite this years solid draft, there are many of the same "types" of players throughout the organization, with minimal internal competition. Sure Michael Frolik and Matt Halischuk are both likely upgrades to the 3rd and 4th lines, but there is still very little risk of either of them losing a spot to a better player. Especially when most of the players that have been brought into Winnipeg have done so via the waiver wire. Yes, he brought in Devin Setoguchi to address the severe lack of talent at right wing, but he also brought in an aging, declining Olli Jokinen that likely resulted in the loss of Alex Burmistrov to the KHL. Speaking of Alex, it turns out that it was not only the issues with Coach Noel (who Chevy hired) that caused him to want out, but also the organizations requests to have him play in the AHL rather than back home in Russia.
It has been seen this offseason how a new general manager can have an immediate impact with his team. Jim Nill of the Dallas Stars has put his stamp on the team already via the acquisition of players like Tyler Seguin, Sergei Gonchar, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff. New Oilers GM Craig MacTavish put his stamp all over his new team this summer adding David Perron, addressing goaltending depth problems by signing Jason Labarbera, and attempting to bolster a weak defensive group by bringing in Lee Moffie and signing Andrew Ference, Anton Belov, Denis Grebeshkov, Brad Hunt, and Taylor Feduin to deals. Yet in two-ish years Chevy has yet to really put his stamp on this team at all. Instead he has played around with the bottom two lines, acquired "free" players that other teams no longer wanted, addressed an issue at right wing, brought in an aging center, and lost a prospect. Patience. Right.
The timing required for this years draft class
Yes, the Jets had a great draft this year. But if we are being completely honest, the majority of those players are not going to be NHL ready for another 3-5 years. In that time, the current “core” group that I mentioned above will also be 3-5 years older and many of which will either be on new contracts, or in the process of negotiating new ones. So what is expected of this? A “fresh start” to the Jets five year plan? Patience is one thing but asking a fan base to wait almost ten years for a winning group, at which point would be filled with aging core players, is ridiculous.
The franchise has lost assets for nothing
Let me bring you back to Alex Burmistrov for a second. It was well known around the trade deadline that there were problems between Alex and Claude Noel. Yet rather than being proactive and really working towards moving him for something beneficial, the "wait and see" approach was taken. We all know how that turned out. This is hardly the first time a young player has clashed with his first team, and the past has shown us that sometimes moving to a new location can do wonders. Take the 2012 trade between the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres for example, involving players Cody Hodgson and Zach Kassian. Both players were having problems and were probably put into inappropriate roles with their original teams. One trade later and both have began to thrive and are looking much more like the players they were expected to become.
Ron Hainsey provides another example of what was a valuable asset being allowed to walk for nothing. Once again, at the trade deadline it was apparent that there was a good chance of Ron leaving town at the end of the season (we now know that Chevy put little attempt in bringing him back). Yet Chevy decided to take the chance of losing him for a run at the playoffs, which ultimately did not work out. This decision was made despite the absolutely absurd rate at which depth and veteran defensemen were being acquired for (Douglas Murray was traded for a pair of second round picks for goodness sake), hinting to me that the Jets no longer desire patience and believe they can win now.
They have kept the same core for big money
If Kevin Cheveldayoff did not have faith that this core group of players (Ladd, Kane, Wheeler, Little, Bogosian, Enstrom and Byfuglien) were capable of winning now, this summer was his chance to really do something about it. Wheeler, Little and Bogo all required new contracts this summer, and moving their negotiating rights really could have brought a new look, feel, and direction to the Jets franchise. Ladd, Enstrom and Byfuglien all have long term contracts and are players that would draw huge interest and great returns from opposing teams should the Jets decide to move them. Yet Kevin Cheveldayoff decided that this group of players, a group put together by previous general managers and a group that has yet to prove themselves as playoff caliber, is worth a cap hit of just over $36 million dollars until at least 2016. One can’t help but wonder what an addition like Mikhail Grabovski could have brought, in combination with any direct assets from moving Bryan Little? Or potentially a goaltender, prospects, depth players, etc. for a Dustin Byfuglien or Tobias Enstrom? At this point, any of this seems like nothing more than a pipe dream.
If the Jets really are banking on the patience of fans, they really are taking advantage of it with the “stand pat and hope these guys get better” method. It could work, I guess. In fact, Evander Kane still has his best years in front of him, Zach Bogosian is expected to truly take off as a star soon, and a healthy season from Enstrom would likely do wonders for the team. Yet with the overall lack of depth and strong supporting players it doesn’t matter who your core is, and now the Jets look to be right up against the salary cap for years to come without much help coming to those vital roles.
In case it’s not obvious already, I believe that patience is a gift we as fans should no longer provide to the Winnipeg Jets. Despite what many believe in regards to the time Chevy has had and the work he has done draft wise, in reality this team has changed on a very minor level from its first arrival. In fact, not only has it not changed but the group has been rewarded with big money, long term deals alongside a big vote of confidence despite no playoff appearances. I try to hold on to the belief that it takes a well used five-ish years for a general manager to properly bring together a team that can contend. But in order to do so there usually needs to be some sort of change and player movement, of which Winnipeg is really yet to see. This Jets team is nothing more than a slightly altered Atlanta Thrashers, and until that changes I seriously doubt they will see much success. Moving into what will likely be a much more difficult conference next year may be the wake up call that Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to start creating change. The problem is, I fear it may come a year too late.