Regular readers will know that I tend to focus on windows of opportunity and the draft, one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Jay Feaster’s work in Calgary (tongue planted firmly in cheek).
Looking over the Jets situation this season, I think they have the opportunity to do something this year that could drastically change their team for the better. I’m not entirely certain if it means buying or selling, but there is an opportunity ahead with this deep draft year and the Jets having accumulated so many picks.
My own preference is usually for the draft. Mostly because the alternative is to try and acquire impact players at a young enough age to still build around, something that is extremely difficult in the NHL today. However, that being said, I can’t rule it out entirely and will leave it open as a possibility.
Let’s start with a quick assessment…
Let me start by saying that the Jets are a team that is, to my eye, in a kind of no-man’s land. They may not be good enough to make the playoffs, yet they consistently play well enough to keep them drafting outside the upper echelon of prospects. The result is they end up stocking up on potential second-pairing defencemen and 2nd to 3rd line forwards year after year. Depth drafting is useful, but they need to start finding some difference-makers for the future. Now, this isn’t really the fault of the Jets or their management, they inherited a franchise that had been mismanaged for years and had little to show for it. No, instead the Jets are like the Anti-Avalanche.
When the Nordiques moved to Colorado that city was bequeathed with a team that was stacked with potential and then brought it all home by trading for the disenchanted Patrick Roy. They won Stanley Cups before the paint was dry on the Pepsi centre, and I’m not certain that the fan base there even knew why.
Winnipeg wasn’t that lucky in inheriting the Atlanta Thrashers. No, instead they got the franchise that had been mismanaged almost from the word go and whose most significant assets in Dany Heatley (who then became Marian Hossa), and Ilya Kovalchuk were lost to free-agency-forced trade, returning very little by way of future building blocks. The draft record of the Thrashers was slightly less than abysmal, and the only team their ownership group could look down upon were the absent owners of the Phoenix Coyotes. Or the Islanders, but who doesn’t look down on them?
Mark Chipman and company had a great deal of work ahead of them when they took over the franchise. That being said, what has been done since?
Looking Two Moves Ahead
I realize that there is a honeymoon period here, that fans were so exultant to get back NHL hockey in a market that truly deserves it that they have cherished every goal scored. But what if winning, or specifically operating under the pretense of being able to win consistently, was the wrong move in this case?
A franchise can’t just turn itself around
360 degrees 180 degrees overnight. Contracts have to expire, prospects have to develop, and a management team (including scouts and trainers) have to coalesce into a solid group. But this is why I see a window now opening for the Jets.
The Jets have a respectable collection of young players developing. Nobody extraordinary at first glance, but enough bubbling under to entertain some expectations for the team’s future. The problem is that they need more and greater depth within their system. The Jets aren’t going to attract free-agents very easily, and trade proposals usually only work by subtracting something of value. This means that the Jets are more or less going to have to work with what they have: players in hand, prospects, and draft picks.
The Bad News
So, the bad news for the Jets is their development system has some serious shortcomings, generally showing a lack of high-end potential and a surplus of replacement or average NHLers.
The Jets may be moving imminently to a new conference that would see them play more often against the Red Wings, Nashville, Chicago, and other Central time zone teams. Thus, things aren’t going to get any easier.
Finally, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the Jets can make the playoffs this year based on their early returns. Their goal differential is poor, they sit around 20th in the league on the powerplay and are at 30th on the penalty kill at the time of this writing. Despite being .500 on the road, they have a losing record at home. They are currently only a few points out of the final playoff position, but ahead of them are the Flyers, Rangers, Lightning and Senators. It will simply become too crowded against deeper, and more talented, teams for them to be likely to overcome the hurdles ahead.
Some of this is the result of a string of unfortunate, and sometimes truly distressing, injuries, but also the less-than-stellar play of Ondrej Pavelec is a factor.
A lot of things would have to go very right, all at the same time, for the post-season to become a real possibility for the Jets. Ask any Flames fan how that strategy works out in the long run.
The Good News
The Jets have ten draft picks in this year’s selection, with three in the 2nd round and two in the 3rd. That is a wealth of picks in a deep draft year that could become a great boon to the organization years from now. One good draft can dramatically improve a franchise’s fortunes, just as one bad year can sink an organization – just ask Oilers fans about the 1990 draft and where they were four years later.
The team has a core of defensive player around which they can build including Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Paul Postma and Dustin Byfuglien. They have some nice offensive players who are, in my opinion, excellent complementary players in Burmistrov, Kane, Little, Ladd and Wheeler.
Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and, well there aren’t many other prospects that are showing well. Telegin, a highly-touted center prospect when he was drafted has been more or less stagnant this year, struggling.
The Jets have an opportunity this summer to really nail this draft, or trade picks for the necessary players needed.
They have a lot of picks, some expiring UFAs and RFAs that will allow them to move some pieces around the roster and fill the remaining holes with new blood. They could also solidify their future for at least a few years by getting some full value out of this year’s draft class. I know I’m making this sound like a sure thing, and draft picks are always a gamble, but every team gambles at the draft and the ones that win are usually called brilliant.
Brett Martin has a good article up right now describing some roster possibilities and briefly explores the free-agent landscape. I won’t go into that too much because I’m certainly no expert when it comes to this roster. But I will say, this team doesn’t have much left in the development tank, has some decent and young players, and at least looks to be run by a competent individual. They have a windfall of resources available to them at a crucial moment in their history. Miss this one and it could be a long time before another window opens.
My loyalties may lie with another franchise, but I can honestly tell you that my blood ran cold when I saw the Jets leave town. So although I’m an Oilers fan I have nothing but the most sincere hopes that they can find some real success in a deserving hockey market. I think that needs to begin in earnest this summer.