Nothing about Wellwood this week, I just love the little guy.
This weekly column looks to discuss a certain number of relevant Jets topics on a certain day of the week. That certain number? Five. That day of the week? Friday. Also, hole. This is the Friday Five-Hole.
True North Sports & Entertainment followed Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s lead last week and signed their General Manager to a contract extension. The Winnipeg Jets saw fit to tack another two years onto Kevin Cheveldayoff’s existing five year deal, keeping him with the club through the 2017-18 season (at least). GMKC has been with the Jets since they relocated from Kentucky or something in 2011, posting a 61-56-13 record in his two (one-and-a-half?) seasons.
The Winnipeg Free Press reported on the incident last week, following my lead and mentioning GMKC’s regular season (and only regular season) record in his two seasons with the Jets. The article also makes sure to mention that Chevy’s Jets boast "a .519 winning percentage" (it’s really a points percentage, but whatever). Why this statistic was added to an otherwise feel-good article is baffling, but is perhaps easier to see through the lens of hindsight.
Before Chevy and the Jets both moved to Winnipeg, the Atlanta Thrashers only employed two other General Managers. The Van Dyke’d Rick Dudley held the position for a single season before the move, and the not-Van Dyke’d Don Waddell filled the role for every other Thrasher season. Let’s take a look at the point percentage each GM achieved over the past four seasons:
Fortunately, the Jets are improving every year. Unfortunately, the average minimum point percentage needed to make the playoffs over the past four seasons is a bit higher than any of those numbers (573%). Also unfortunately, the Southeast division doesn’t exist anymore.
The Jets’ motto as of late has been "slowly but surely". Progress bit by bit is still progress after all. However, progress can easily be mistaken for mediocrity, and that is what the Thrashers/Jets have been for too long now. GMKC simply hasn’t done enough to accommodate the move to a much tougher division. Chevy’s only real off-season acquisitions, Setoguchi and Frolik, won’t make the difference (especially at the indirect cost of Burmistrov).
This extension makes* a lot of sense to me.
PRESEASON (OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE JETS)
It’s hard to analyze a stretch of games notoriously known as shinny on steroids. Veterans only play a handful of games, younger and less recognizable players fight (literally) for roster spots, and the game lacks its usual intensity (like the regular season compared to the playoffs).
The usual suspects seem to have come up for the Jets in the preseason. Goaltending is an issue. Scoring is an issue. The preseason version of the Jets, much like their regular season counterparts, struggle to connect sixty minutes of consistent play. So what does this mean?
The main conclusion to take away into the regular season is this: the Jets’ star players have to put up huge numbers this year. Core players in Ladd, Kane, Little, Wheeler, Byfuglien, Enstrom, and Pavelec must have career years if the Jets hope to make the playoffs. The skill discrepancy between the Jets’ core players and role players is huge – perhaps as big of a gap as there is in the NHL. To compensate for their new, tougher division and imbalanced roster, Dustin Byfuglien is probably going to have to score like 100 goals.
KANE & THE UNDERTAKING
So WTF can we expect out of no-tipper Evander Kane this season? Since his arrival in Winnipeg, the former Vancouver Giant has given Jets fans vertigo, dizzying us with his sky-high potential. The last Jet/Thrasher to put up a Point Per Game average in a full season was defector Ilya Kovalchuk, who put up 91 points back in 2008-09. Can we expect numbers anything close to that anytime soon from Kane?
There is a striking trend in the Memorial Cup winner’s numbers over his short career: he keeps getting better. In his three years on the Vancouver Giants in the WHL, Kane’s PPG averages were 0.13, 0.63, and 1.57, respectively. Dating back to his Thrasher days, the left-winger’s NHL PPG numbers are 0.39, 0.60, and 0.77 (he posted a 0.69 PPG last season, but it was a compromised season and also doesn’t fit my narrative).
It isn’t unreasonable to expect Kane to become an 80 point player within the next two seasons. Kane has shown an amazing and repeated ability to adapt and exceed the level of play around him, and his physical attributes are impressive even among the best in the world. With these two attributes coupled, Kane should be Abel to have a great season.
To go along with my clever pun.
GOALS BE DAMNED
This has been one of the more pugilistic pre-seasons in recent memory. From John Scott’s bullying to Zach Kassian’s stick swinging, from prospects trying to make an impact to the usual suspects with more broken fingers than goals, from the Toronto Maple Leafs to…the Toronto Maple Leafs, from- you get the picture.
The Jets have kept their fists in their gloves for the most part, claming only one fighting major through seven games. This appears to be the Jeykll to the Jets’ regular season Hyde, however, as the team has averaged about a fight every two games over the past two seasons. Will the team drop the act and continue their wanton ways this season?
Probably. Chevy still pays (and plays) all of the players who earned their share of Winnipeg’s 27 fighting majors in 2012-13. I don’t want to beat a dead horse by jumping on the anti-fighting bandwagon, but no matter which way the league and its surrounding media trends, an employed fighter takes the place of an unemployed scorer. The last time I checked, the team that scores more goals wins.
It is that simple…isn’t it?
In 2011-12, the Jets finished four wins out of a playoff spot. Last year, two. As we’ve seen, the team is slowly improving , slowly moving up the hill, like the little guy from Cliff Hangers (I’m watching The Price Is Right). Cheveldayoff has certainly addressed some of his team’s previous issues. Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik were acquired in an attempt to bolster scoring and help their last place powerplay, Matt Halischuk is certainly an upgrade on players like Chris Thorburn and James Wright.
Does Winnipeg’s slow upward winning trend over the past few seasons mean this is the year they make their first postseason appearance since 1995-96? I’m not so sure. While GMKC has made some slightly meaningful roster shifts, so has every other GM in the Jets’ new division (and league – that’s what the offseason is for, folks). The Jets have been a bubble team and will likely remain that way this season. The roster (in particular, their bottom six) looks much too similar to last year’s to expect drastically different results. The Jets lack the well-roundedness of a playoff team, and with the new playoff format, it’s safe to assume two of the three divisional postseason spots will be filled by Chicago and St. Louis.
Patience has been preached by the Jets’ front office since their relocation in 2011. Through draft picks, shrewd roster moves, and hoping like heck team chemistry keeps evolving, Cheveldaoff wants to give his roster as much time to congeal as it needs. This sounds a bit like a Rebuild© to me. And it’s true, a Rebuild© takes time. How much time though? How many seasons can we expect to be holding our breath for the final ten games, hoping our Jets snag one of the final two playoff spots? If the Jets finish 2013-14 as they did 2012-13 and 2011-12, what then?