What is it that I don’t understand about last place? About a bottom-feeder? About doing the Auston Matthews jig?
I mean, when last seen, the Winnipeg Jets were rolling in the deep, wearing 50 shades of gawd awful in pursuit of a repeat of their one and only, albeit brief, entry into the Stanley Cup tournament last spring. They’re feeding from the bottom of the National Hockey League’s most treacherous waters, the Central Division, and only the unexpected free fall of the Disney Ducks and the usual buffoonery from the Edmonton McDavids has prevented the Jets from claiming sole squatter’s rights to the Western Conference cellar.
But, hey, everything is cool. That sub-.500 record? Not an accurate measurement of their true mettle. Just ask them.
“I think we’re in a lot better shape than the standings look,” insists Paul Maurice, the head coach and president of the Anthony Peluso fan club. “I like the way our game is being played. We’ve been in some games and have had some tough defeats lately, but we’ve played right and played hard.”
What say you, Bryan Little?
“I feel like we are better than a .500 team and you haven’t seen the best of us yet,” says the veteran centre. “I think we have a better team in this room than our record shows.”
Earth to Jets! Earth to Jets! Put away the rose-tinted glasses. You are what your record says you are, a last-place club with apparent designs on first call in next June’s NHL entry draft, whereupon the name Auston Matthews shall be shouted out and one lucky outfit lands a potential game-changer.
Trouble is, that fortunate outfit is supposed to be named something other than Jets.
I mean, I don’t believe there was intent to tank from the get-go of the 2015-16 crusade, but now that we’ve arrived at the Christmas break and the Jets are a mere two points clear of last place in the Western Conference and eight removed from the playoff line, what’s the plan? Unload Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd for youth and make an unveiled bid to better the chances of winning the draft lottery? Hope kids like Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, Connor Hellebuyk, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba grow up fast? Like, real fast? ‘Fess up to the fawning faithful, advising them to prepare for the pain and frustration that accompanies the flaws and foibles of freshly scrubbed greenhorns?
The Jets won’t say, of course, because they don’t have to say anything. Their Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every game and their merchandise shops are doing boffo business, so, at best, they’ll continue to drone on about their draft-and-develop strategy and hope that their prospects are superior to the other guys’.
Someone, however, should be answering for what has transpired this season. For example:
- Chris Thorburn has more goals than Mathieu Perreault. How is it that a player with fourth-line skill has lit the lamp more often than a second-line forward who enjoys time on the powerplay? Explain, please.
- Is this what the Jets expected of rookie Ehlers? One goal in 25 games? No doubt the Dane has NHL speed and skills, but does he have an NHL game? Explain, please.
- The Jets summoned Joel Armia from the farm in November, then sat him in the press box for three weeks before reassigning him back to the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League. What was up with that? Someone—anyone—explain, please.
- Much was made of the Jets moving the Moose from Newfy Land to across the hall at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, because it made for swifter and more economic movement of players from the farm to the big club. But what is the point of having the Moose so close at hand if Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to stock his AHL roster with players who, when called up to the Jets, can fill a uniform but not a void? Explain, please.
- Anthony Peluso. Explain, please, Paul Maurice.
- We all know that Alexander Burmistrov is no Michael Frolik, but he isn’t even a reasonable facsimile of the departed all-purpose forward. Actually, the second coming of Burmistrov has been a failed experiment. Explain, please, GM Chevy.
- Jacob Trouba once was thought to be “all that” on defence. Now we’re wondering what “all that” is. Explain, please.
- Captain Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien remain unsigned, untraded and headed for unrestricted free agency. Explain, please.
- The Jets have long been goalie blind. That is, they’ve been convinced that Ondrej Pavelec was a legitimate No. 1 NHL goaltender, even though the rest of the hockey world knew otherwise. Since Pavelec went on the shelf with an owie last month, neither Michael Hutchinson nor Connor Hellebuyck has done much to convince me they’ve got what it takes to be numero uno. Explain, please.
- Five years in, we’re still wondering why the Jets are so thin in the bottom six up front. Explain, please.
- Last season, the Jets were fast, hard on the puck and heavy on their foes. This year I see Mark Scheifele make a one-handed wave of his stick while the smurf-like Johnny Gaudreau out-hustles and out-finesses him to a puck that finds its way to the back of the Jets goal. Explain, please.
- The Jets are bankrolled, in part, by the wealthiest man in Canada, David Thomson, but they spend like Scrooge, with the lowest payroll in the NHL. Explain, please.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.