Rhys Finnick sounds off on where the problems of the Jets lie, and the inadequecy of blaming Claude Noel.
"What I say doesn’t matter. It’s what you do out on the ice. You can blow smoke as much as you want out in the media, we’ve been blowing smoke for three years. Myself and everyone who has stood in front of a microphone for three years, we’ve said the same (stuff). What do you want me to say? That’s about it. I don’t really know what else to say."
– Blake Wheeler
By now every Jets fan from Flin Flon to Timbuktu has read this quote from Blake Wheeler after Saturday’s embarrassing 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars. Our own Kevin McCartney wrote on the topic during his post-game report, echoeing the same sentiment almost every (sane) Jets fan must feel: fire Claude Noel.
Sacking the coach at the first sign of trouble has become NHL protocol these days. A General Manager certainly isn’t going to fire himself, nor ship one of the star players out of town and change the team’s make-up before letting go of the coach. The Sabres, Flames, Avalanche, Blue Jackets, Stars, Oilers, Panthers, Rangers, Flyers, Lightning, and Canucks all saw fit to find a new head coach between the end of last season and now – and in most of these examples, the GM is just as much to blame as the coach.
When the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and become the Jets, new owners True North Sports and Entertainment hired then-Blackhawks Assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to take over for Rick Dudley. Since that day, Cheveldayoff has continually preached patience. "Just because the Atlanta Thrashers moved north to Winnipeg, that doesn’t mean they automatically become a winning hockey team," Cheveldayoff aptly said six games into the new Jets’ first season.
Unfortunately, the down-to-earth line Cheveldayoff gave then rings true differently in 2013. GMKC is in his third season of managing the Jets and maintains the same core of coaches he hired and players he inherited. Winnipeg has yet to make the playoffs or noticably improve since the move from Atlanta, so what changes are we being patient for?
Cheveldayoff has created a revolving door of lower-end players to try and solve Winnipeg’s depth problem, but controls it like Balki from Perfect Strangers. The promising Russian Burmistrov left alienated to play in the KHL. Kyle Wellwood, Ron Hainsey, Mike Santorelli, and Johnny Oduya were let go and – with the exception of the quasi-retired Wellwood – now thrive on better teams. The additions of Jokinen, Ponikarovsky, and even Setoguchi indicate a "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" sort of mentality where GMKC seems to be hoping he’ll catch a good season of a downward-trending veteran in one of their twilight years. And where the hell is Nik Antropov?
It’s difficult to evaluate Chevedayoff’s success in the draft for Winnipeg so far. Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba are the only recent draft picks to play on the main roster. Trouba’s rapid on-ice maturation has been a pleasant surprise, but Scheifele still looks AHL-calibre after a reasonable amount of time and opportunity in the NHL. Other than Portland Winterhawk Nicolas Petan and his 66 points in 32 games this year, Chevedayoff’s draft picks probably won’t develop into top-end talent anytime soon.
There is no question that coach Claude Noel should be fired. His in-game blunders are costly, he seems more and more dejected when talking about the team, and this whole season feels like a trip down a helical slide. However, one can only work with what they’re given, and Cheveldayoff hasn’t given the Jets anything during his tenure.
When Noel goes, Cheveldayoff should go at the same time, the two of them comically becoming wedged in the door frame at the same time – because this has been a joke.