There’s been too much talk already about the possibility of the Jets making the playoffs in the 2013-14 NHL season. Nonsense, posturing, and bullshit, catering to those fans among us with a goldfish-like memory and a dog’s naiveté.
It is a fitting reminder that the Jets pre-season began with a loss to the Capitals. The Sept. 14 game was, of course, not necessarily a reflection of what the Jets have to offer. Byfuglien was not dressed, nor were Ladd, Little, or Wheeler. But why? This shows a certain lack of respect for the Belleville, ON crowd watching the promotional match and is indicative of a lack of poise amongst management.
The Capitals’ captain, a much bigger investment for their franchise than any of the Jets stars, was not merely playing, but playing hard in Belleville. Alexander Ovechkin took a Ben Chiarot follow through to the face as he was pressuring the Jets point man. The blade got caught in the Russian’s visor after the initial contact and rattled around there, between the plastic guard and the flesh of Ovechkin’s face. After being helped off the ice, looking as though he’d suffered a bad encounter with a meat mallet, he returned quickly. That is what leadership looks like.
Speaking of presences, Jets fans must hope Claude Noel’s continuance as the head coach is not indicative of a lack of interest in winning on GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s part.
Noel was named coach when the Jets came to Winnipeg two years ago – why that is remains a mystery. Taking the poorly performing Atlanta team and turning them into a group worthy of glory in Canada, where fans care, seemed like a tough job for even the most experienced of coaches. The Jets chose to go with a man new to the position at the NHL level. The decision was baffling.
The results of the choice have not been baffling. The franchise’s first season in Winnipeg saw a slight improvement in results. The lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season saw similar, near .500, play from the Jets. Neither year saw the team make the playoffs. The Jets failed to take advantage of the Southeastern Division, the worst division in the NHL.
The team had a seed all but locked up last season. A run of poor play, bad luck, and bad coaching kept them from achieving the city’s dream of being knocked out in the first round.
What was Byfuglien doing at forward last year? It took the big man a long, long time to get adjusted to defence and he’d only been moved there in the first place because the style of play he exemplified as a forward had been rendered obsolete by new rules, allowing just about anyone to set up a screen (no longer is the front of the net solely the domain of the massive). When a player is slow to adjust it is best to move him as little as possible.
Further evidencing a lack of insight was Noel’s choice to play Pavelec in gruelling games on numerous occasions during the last season. Montoya’s save percentage trumps Pavelec’s when Pavelec is playing the second night of back-to-back competitions. This is a more grievous error than just starting the worst of two goalies on a given night; the choice exasperated the wear and tear on the Jets’ first-string net minder.
Despite these errors in judgment, this year we’re dreaming big again. The team’s mantra is that the season is all about making the playoffs. How about concentration on the microcosm, the winning of each game? Didn’t this sort of distraction play a hand in the disastrous run kicked off with two embarrassing losses to the Capitals last season, just when anything but disaster guaranteed the Jets a playoff berth?
Perhaps the GM is sympathetic to Noel’s trials; this is, after all, Cheveldayoff’s own first stint at the helm of an NHL team.
The only bright point about the coming season is the assembly of a second line. Mark Scheifele appears to have kept to last season’s intent, bringing “a bigger and stronger and better Mark Scheifele back to Winnipeg.” His push towards the net was instrumental in the first goal of the pre-season and he appears to be gelling with line mates Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi. Kane was a goalpost away from scoring a hat-trick vs. the Caps; he appears to be in fine fettle heading into the 2013-14 season. Twenty-six-year-old Setoguchi will hopefully inspire consistency by example; his acquisition is a bright point in the Jets trading history. He will deserve full credit if the rookie keeps his poise and stays out of the box.
This year the excuse of dealing with Atlanta’s inheritance is getting old and the competition in the Central Division is going to be the toughest the franchise has ever faced. The Jets have failed to rise to the occasions of the recent past. If the team is to make the playoffs, if this snowball is to make it through hell, it will be because the second line keeps its cool.