Benny and the Jets
by BMS on 04/01/12 at 02:59 PM ET
Finally, officially, it’s over. The Winnipeg Jets’ playoff chances were slimmer than slim going into last night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but an overtime loss courtesy of Steven Stamkos’ 56th goal of the year dashed what little hope was left of making the postseason. Infamously weak in the second of back-to-back games and notably bad on the road, the Jets were lucky to keep things close against the Bolts in Tampa following the previous night’s win in Carolina.
A Jets win last night wouldn’t have been enough anyhow – Montreal needed to beat the Washington Capitals for the Jets’ meager chances of the playoffs alive, and they failed to do so in a shootout loss. With just three games left and only four points up on the Toronto Maple Leafs (14th in the Eastern Conference), it’s plausible that the Jets could lose all three games and pick in the top five at this year’s draft. Which, at this point, is what Jets fans should be hoping for.
Speaking of fans, it’s time to stop blaming the Jets’ woes on the travel schedule, bad officiating, etc. If the team can’t make it out of the league weakest division, there are bigger problems. (And stop booing a team’s best player randomly, and stop with the chants. Seriously.)
At 81 points, the team currently has one point more than what the Atlanta Thrashers finished the 2010-2011 season with, although Winnipeg has two more wins than the team that would become the Jets. The Jets have ten fewer goals for and 36 fewer goals against, the latter of which probably speaks more to Ondrej Pavelec’s abilities between the pipes than it does the Jets/Thrashers defensive abilities.
On the blue line, Zach Bogosian is the core around which you build your future blue line, and other than a couple of questionable hits has been probably the strongest all-around d-man for the Jets this year. Dustin Byfuglien’s 48 points in 65 games is great, but he’s not reliable defensively, especially when labouring with a deep bone bruise like he is right now (he doesn’t practice or take game days skates at present). Mark Stuart brings grit and great shot blocking abilities on the back end, and is definitely worth keeping, and Grant Clitsome has played well in the games he’s actually seen ice time this year since being picked up off waivers. A team in need of a speedy, puck-moving d-man might be able to offer something decent up in return for a guy like Tobias Enstrom, and if Kevin Cheveldayoff can unload Ron Hainsey and his $4.5 million contract on someone, well, more power to him.
Up front, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane both show great promise in terms of the direction they’re moving offensively. Points-wise, Andrew Ladd is actually off pace from last year (29 goals, 30 assists last year to 25 goals, 21 assists this year), but those are strong second line numbers. Unfortunately, he’s on the first line, which is the problem with the Jets – they need more firepower up front to carry them into the postseason. There’s a fair bit of cap space for the Jets to play with this off-season, even if they decide to re-sign UFAs like Tanner Glass (who left the Carolina game with a broken foot and is done for the season) and Kyle Wellwood, who has put up career numbers (18 goals, 29 assists) after signing a one-year, $700,000 deal as an unrestricted free agent. I’m not the biggest Wellwood fan (I think he’s allergic to checking along the boards), but if they can offer him a modest raise and bring him back he’d be a good third line point-getter.
UFA-wise the Jets have some business to attend to. I’d throw an offer at Masterton nominee Jim Slater similar to the $1 million he made this year to keep him around for another couple of years. Tanner Glass seems like a good character guy, and at $750,000 isn’t exactly breaking the bank for the Jets - so bring the gritty forward back again. Tim Stapleton and Randy Jones can go bye-bye. And Chris Mason? At $1.85 million, he’s a fairly pricy albeit solid 35 year-old backup goalie. Pavelec is a RFA this year and will get a big raise from $1.15 million, so Mason at around $1 million wouldn’t seem outrageous.
The St. John’s IceCaps are having a tremendous season in the AHL, and guys like Spencer Mahachek could see another look next year, especially given the way Mahachek has played since being called up on March 18. If the IceCaps go deep this year and guys like him have an impact in the Calder Cup playoffs, the Jets’ fourth line could do far worse than an energy guy like him.
Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about - that the team has had an unfair shake this year, has the best fans in the league, would have made a deep playoff run, and shouldn’t make major changes in the off-season.
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About Benny and the Jets
Fifteen years ago, Ben's beloved Winnipeg Jets left town. He begrudgingly turned to the Montreal Canadiens for comfort and found none, and is now struggling to find a place in his heart for the Winnipeg Jets v2.0.
Ben is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer that writes a lot about wine and beer. Expect his son to be drafted into the NHL in 2025.