The Jets passed game 41 on the schedule, and already it’s been an up and down season. Two high-flying wins to open the year gave way to a shameful ‘Welcome to the West’ October record of 3-7-2 with just a single regulation win in the bunch.
Perhaps the hardest month expected of the season followed, and 3 losses to Chicago in November had the combined score of 15-5. But November also included the team’s longest winning streak of four games, and one of their very best performances on the season in a 4-2 win over Detroit. The unexpected record of 7-5-2 kept them in contention for a Wild Card playoff spot, so long as they took advantage of a long Eastern Conference road trip and the easiest month of games any team could ask for.
Instead, decisive losses to Florida, Buffalo, and Edmonton became the low-lights of a month of .500 hockey. Six wins and six losses so far this month put the Jets 6th in the Central, 11th in the West, and 20th in the NHL.
Below, a few Jets Nation contributors sound off on the highs, the lows, what’s to be expected, and what can be done.
Best Moment of the Season So Far
Rhys Finnick: I don’t see how it could be anything other than the Helmet Pardy in Chicago.
Travis Hrubeniuk: It’s not necessarily a "moment" as it is a series of events, but I have to go with the continued success and emergence of Jacob Trouba. Yes he makes his fair share of mistakes, but overall this kid has been a star and a beacon of hope for the Jets future. I constantly find myself trying to limit my excitement and expectations but the more I watch him play, the more I like him. In a season of huge ups and downs, Jacob Trouba has been a pleasant constant for the Jets. Well, either him or watching the drunken Blackhawks fan rip Adam Pardy’s helmet off of his head. That moment will live in infamy for years.
Kevin McCartney: I’ve enjoyed a lot of this season. When Buf danced after scoring a goal. When Buf head-bobbed to AC/DC during a stoppage in play. Or when Buf threw that giant hit on Peter Harrold and TSN put their ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ graphic over a replay of it.
In all seriousness, my best moment is probably Evander Kane’s 5-2 win over Florida, when Kane bullied an entire team into submission and his line with Scheifele and Frolik took over the game.
Ross Smith: Mark Scheifele’s pass to Wheeler/Byfuglien for the OT win against Colorado. It’s not that it’s some miraculous play, it’s just that it’s emblematic of the new-found confidence he seems to be playing with, regardless of the team’s performance or how he’s being used by the coaches. Here we see a combination of nice hands, patience and good decision-making. Keep it up, young squire! This team needs your help. (Petan signing also exciting: He’s gonna be a good’un!)
Worst Moment of the Season So Far
Rhys: A 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars on December 14th still counts as the ultimate low point for the Jets season thus far. Noel gave the Stars a goal early on a bad line change, Peluso killed any Jets momentum with a dirty hit on Goligoski resulting in a major penalty that the Stars were able to score twice on (not to mention Peluso’s three subsequent three game suspension), and the Jets looked like a bad pond hockey team overall. Blake Wheeler’s infamous post-game rant is that of semi-legend now, and we may look back on this game that finally forced Cheveldayoff’s hand into action.
But probably not.
Travis: The worst moment of the season so far has to be the loss to the Oilers on December 23rd. As much as the loss to Buffalo sucked, and a loss to the Panthers was just terrible, the Jets really hit rock bottom with their performance against Edmonton. It just seemed to wrap all of their problems into one terrible game. Bad turnovers, poor specialty teams, stupid penalties, sub-par goal tending, bad coaching decisions, no depth, it all just came crashing down in a heap of burning garbage. I have trouble thinking of another moment this year that really sucked as much as that game did.
Kevin: The 5-2 loss to the Panthers was one of the worst games of hockey I’ve ever seen from an NHL team, and I’ve watched the Oilers for a decade. I’ve said this before, but I came very close to ending my fandom for the Jets that night. It was pure pond hockey by the Jets, only no one was having fun.
Ross: Road win in NYC. How is a win the worst moment? When it’s dressed in the Emperor’s New Clothes. The team was awful by every statistical measure and still won. Wins like that inspire false confidence and allows everyone in the organization to pretend that their junk isn’t just hanging pendulously out in the breeze. Don’t ask me why this team refuses to address their key problems and just continues to muddle their way through the season.
How have the results of the season matched your expectations?
Rhys: The Jets have spent the better part of the season battling for last place in the Central dvision with the Nashville Predators. It would be easy to say this was expected after the off-season move to the much, much, much more difficult Western Conference, so I will. Cheveldayoff hasn’t changed the roster he inherited from Atlanta much, so you can’t really expect the team to do anything other than what they’ve been doing for years: missing the playoffs.
Travis: Honestly, the Jets are right around where I thought they would be this year. I made a friendly wager that they would finish tenth in the West this season and as I write this they are currently sitting in eleventh. They may be a slightly better team than they have been in the past, but many of the same demons are haunting them right now. Poor coaching decisions, poor goal tending from Pavelec, and a lack of overall depth just won’t cut it in the West. Supplement that with possessions numbers that have dropped due to the dismissal of players like Kyle Wellwood and Alex Burmistrov for the likes of James Wright and Chris Thorburn, and you can see exactly why the Jets sit where they do at the moment.
Kevin: It’s hard to say I expected any different, but what I did expect is that the increased competition would force the coach to be a little less petty, and the GM to be more active. Instead, the coach won’t play his best lineup for locker room reasons, just like last year. And the GM is saying he’s still evaluating after watching many of these players for multiple seasons. That’s frustrating.
Ross: The team is about where I would have anticipated this season, largely due to obvious line-up and talent holes but more frustratingly due to inconsistency and a refusal to adhere to any coherent system. Their task of reaching the playoffs is made so much more difficult by such a strong division but that’s outside of their control. However, the teams that currently sit 7-10 in the conference all have chinks in their armour that can be exploited in the second half if the Jets picked up their game. Somehow I think if they tidied up in house, we’d see a more competitive, plausibly playoff-capable, Jets squad.
If Mark Chipman made you GM and said you had to make the playoffs in 2015, what are the first three things you’d do?
Rhys: If I was GM…
- Fire Claude Noel. Hire the (hopefully) newly fired Barry Trotz, who specializes in making something out of nothing. And having no neck.
- Raid the free agent pool for depth. There are decent upgrades available for not too much more money. You ain’t making the playoffs with Chris Thorburn on the second line.
- Make a major play for some of the impending off-season UFAs. Since this season is already over, I’d spend the next four months figuring out how in the hell I can convince a player like Thomas Vanek or Ryan Miller to play in Winnipeg. I’ll tell you one thing: it’s going to be a hell of a presentation.
Travis: Well wouldn’t this just be fantastic. First, I would look to Toronto to acquire James Reimer (or possibly Vancouver for Eddie Lack, or maybe even LA for Ben Scrivens) and buy out Ondrej Pavelec once I acquired somebody. I’ve liked a lot of Montoya’s work this season, but I’m not yet convinced he could be a long term answer for the Jets. What I am convinced of, is that Pav is not the guy. You can do anything and everything to fix the guys in front of him, but with poor goal tending you aren’t going anywhere in this league. This is a top priority for me.
Second, I hunt down a replacement for Claude Noel. At this point in time, I’m not sure as to who I want behind the Jets bench. What I am sure of though, is that Claude is not that guy. Every day I find myself questioning his decisions more and more, and his current "dump and chase" mantra is not one that will lead to this group having any sort of success. Dismissing Claude Noel and finding a suitable replacement not only sends a message that this level of play is not good enough, but potentially brings in a new culture and a winning attitude to a group that has been lacking confidence for too long.
Finally, I would look to get my hands on some solid bottom-six talent. Say what you will about a top line of Ladd, Little and Wheeler, but they have been able to continue having success as a top unit in the Western Conference. Them, combined what is looking like a decent second line of Kane – Scheifele – Frolik means that the Jets currently have a couple decent lines to move forward with. Both Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi have contracts expiring this year, and I think it would be possible to get some strong depth players for them at the trade deadline. Draft picks are always nice to have, but you can’t continue to "build for the future" when you have a core group already locked up. Put together a stronger bottom six, get a solid starting goaltender, and throw in a more intelligent coach, and I think this team can start thinking playoffs by 2015.
Kevin: Finally, Mark Chipman recognizes me genius!
- Fire Claude Noel and Pascal Vincent. Bring in Peter Laviolette, ask Pearn to take over PP duties for now, and wait for the off-season to let Laviolette choose his assistants moving forward. Laviolette might not be Scottie Bowman, but he has a 389-282-25-63 coaching record and success with teams that have holes in the roster, including in net (NYI, CAR, PHI).
- Use a compliance buy out on Pavelec to keep him off the books, and go after Justin Peters or Devin Dubnyk or Reimier or Khubodin or someone else below the elite level with a better personal record than Pavelec. I’d even bring Montoya back. The extra money can be spent on the rest of the roster, and this team can make the playoffs on the old Detroit model of goaltending – hire a league-average goalie for a relatively low price.
- Let go of Jokinen and Stuart (if not already done) and use that money to fix the bottom-6 by keeping Seto, trying to get Burmistrov back, and hiring another top-9 player, preferably in the Daniel Winnick/Milan Michalek/Benoit Pouliot vein of sizeable and able to skate. The flexibility of Burmistrov means I can hire a LW or a C, realistically, and there may be a handful of exceptional players on the market, including possibly Mason Raymond, or Grabovski – both of whom would have been exceptional for the Jets this season.
- Find a real goalie
- Find a better coach
- Find lines 3 and 4. Call PM Bouchard; I think he saw them working out somewhere in a gym in Etobicoke and/or playing for the Spengler Cup.
Predictions for the final 41 games
Rhys: The Jets are 18-18-4 halfway through the season, and that seems about right. They may be able to string together some wins and threaten for a playoff spot, but will never come closer than four or five points out. Cheveldayoff won’t do anything significant by the trade deadline, nor am I even sure he’ll fire Noel.
Bold prediction: Olli Jokinen finishes the season on a 41-game point streak, piling up a whopping 216 points by season’s end, edging out Wayne Gretzky’s record of 215. One of those games will feature Jokinen scoring 8 goals and 3 assists, finally throwing Darryl Sittler out of the record books forever.
Travis: I think the Jets have more of the same coming up for them in the next half of the year. Each 10 game stretch this year has seen them put together either 4 or 5 wins, and I just can’t think of a reason for that to change. I am hoping they can trade away both Jokinen and Setoguchi at the deadline for some good depth guys, but I am always nervous that Chevy will continue along the same path of mediocrity and stand still again.
I also want to believe that Coach Noel will be dismissed by seasons end, but I am not bold enough to say it’s going to happen for sure. Just when things look like they are going to complete fall apart, the Jets manage to string together a couple of wins and the "fire Noel" talks seem to dissipate for a short while. I am going to stand by my statement that the Jets will finish the season in 10 in the West. I predict that the Avalanche are going to fall off and despite their strong start they will miss the playoffs. The Central Division will finish with the Blues on top, followed closely by the Blackhawks, then the Minnesota Wild.
Kevin: I’m not good at predictions – that’s why I choose to write extremely specific ones as more of a ‘fan fiction’ exercise. The Jets have a very tough schedule through January, and a relatively easy one after the Olympic break. We might expect the team to stumble into the Central’s cellar, and then surge upward. But this team has the unfortunate habit of playing down to its opponents, so it could easily .500 hockey all the way to April.
My darkest fear of a prediction is that UFA Olli Jokinen gets a contract extension for another two years, and that UFA Mark Stuart gets 3 more years and both keep their Assistant Captaincy. Meanwhile, UFA Devin Setoguchi is traded to the Rangers for anything but roster help (I’m thinking Kyle Beach and a 3rd), and when the team falls apart in the home stretch, Byfuglien and Kane are sent away in the off-season.
In an alternate universe, the Jets make a move for Dan Girardi now – long before the deadline when he will go to a team in the playoff hunt – and Stuart and Jokinen are moved for futures. Eric O’Dell is called up, Thorburn put on the fourth line, and Al Montoya allowed to steal the starting job if he can. The team is amazed at the immediate improvement.