I have a question for those of you in Jets Nation now heavily engaged in the annual spring ritual of teeth gnashing and gazing at navels: What did you expect?
Yes, of course, I understand that you’re a frustrated, fed up and flat out PO’d lot because there shall be no meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie beginning next month. But seriously. Surely you knew in advance that the Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-17 crusade would be an angst-inducing exercise guaranteed to expose the local lads as lacking in the necessities and, thus, leaving them—yet again—with their noses pressed against the window as they view the Stanley Cup derby from the outside-in.
If you thought otherwise, you weren’t paying attention last autumn.
If you recall, the Jets entered this National Hockey League fray with a roster that included fledglings Brandon Tanev, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and, most notable, Connor Hellebuyck in the blue ice. Add to that collection of neophytes a pair of past-their-due-date greybeards in Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart, plus the aimlessly wandering Alexander Burmistrov, and ownership/management was telling you all you needed to know before the drop of the first puck: “This season is a writeoff.”
Naturally, the Puck Pontiff (that would be meddlesome co-bankroll Mark Chipman) and his ring-kissing College of Yes Men fronted by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the potty-mouthed head coach, Paul Maurice, didn’t say it in so many words. They didn’t have to. It was painfully obvious that they were in organizational tank mode from the get-go.
I submit this not in hindsight, by the way. This is what I wrote in October: “I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well.”
It wasn’t the heavy infusion of peach-fuzzed faces that led me to that conclusion. I had no quarrel with it. After all, when your club’s ad nauseam mantra is draft-and-develop, youth must be served at some point, so you gird your loins knowing the forecast calls for pain. Trouble is, they didn’t go far enough.
Chris Thorburn should not have been on this team. Ditto Mark Stuart.
Again, I direct your attention to something I long ago posted on this blog: “I don’t know about you, but I tend to use Thorburn and (Anthony) Peluso as measuring sticks vis-a-vis the growth of the franchise, on-ice division. The way I have it figured, as long as either is wearing Jets linen, he is clogging the club’s developmental arteries.”
That was in June 2015. Thorburn is still to be found in Jets linen.
So think of it this way: Cheveldayoff and his scouts have participated in six NHL entry drafts and they have heard the hosannas rain down for their handiwork in the first round (hello Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, Morrissey and Laine). Yet they have unearthed nary a grinder who is better at hockey than Chris Thorburn? The mind boggles.
That is not to slight Thorburn. He need not make apologies for being Chris Thorburn. But his ongoing presence in the Jets lineup is a harsh indictment on the Puck Pontiff, Cheveldayoff, his bird dogs and, perhaps most of all, Maurice.
Paul Maurice is a snake oil salesman. He is, as they say in cowboy country, all hat and no cattle.
Few talk a better game than coach Potty-Mo, who, for all his TV-smooth blah, blah, blah, delivers a phony bill of sale. At some point very early next season, he will become the losingest coach in NHL history and it isn’t difficult to see why. The Jets’ defensive deficiencies, the complete disregard for discipline, the dumpster fire that is the penalty killing, the logic-defying player deployment, the Thorburn fetish…that’s all down to coaching.
Here’s something else to consider: I’m convinced that coach Potty-Mo, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, is afraid of Dustin Byfuglien because he refuses to rein in his rogue rearguard.
Naturally, all of this means the Jets will re-up this coach who has been fired or missed the playoffs in 14 of his 19 seasons behind an NHL bench. Rewarding those who never fail to fail is the Jets way, you see. It’s the “plan.”
“Our plan is very simple,” the Puck Pontiff revealed in September 2013, scant hours after he had happily delivered a contract extension to Cheveldayoff following the GM’s first two failed crusades. “It is about re-investment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management.”
And that, Jets Nation, would explain Chris Thorburn’s lifetime contract, five of six seasons with their noses pressed against the window when the post-season commences, and zero playoff victories.
Let the teeth gnashing and navel gazing continue.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.