At this stage of the development of the former Atlanta Thrashers, Winnipeg Jets followers tend to fall into two categories: (1) Those who believe the Jets have good players and the coach can’t get anything out of them and (2) those who believe the Jets have lousy players and the coach is doing the best he can.
I tend to fall into the second category. I tend to think head coach Claude Noel is getting just about the most he can get out of generally mediocre personnel. I believe Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba will become outstanding hockey players (sooner rather than later); I believe Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane and Toby Enstrom all have a solid up-side; and I believe the rest of them just fill uniforms.
After a tough 2-1 loss on Sunday night in Vancouver and then a horrible 6-2 setback to a lousy Edmonton Oilers mess, the Jets are two-games below .500 at 16-18-5. In today’s world of an almost-guaranteed-one-point-a-night NHL, that’s not very good. When you are wandering aimlessly below a point a game, you are pretty much out of the playoff hunt.
Trouble is, while the Jets were dreadful on Monday night, they played a very good road game on Sunday night. They controlled the puck for much of the night, held red-hot Vancouver (8-1-1 in its last 10) to only 25 shots, outhit the Canucks 22-11 and even won more faceoffs. But because the Jets don’t score much, especially against Western Conference teams, it seemed as if they were doomed from the start. Canucks observers believed their team was “flat” and that backup goalie Eddie Lack (who replaced an injured Roberto Luongo) “stole” a win.
Then on Monday, they laid an egg in Edmonton. It was an awful performance against a team that was coming off a 6-0 loss to St. Louis.
So if you were owner Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff how would you change this? Would you just wait another couple of years until your young players became great young players? Would you make a big trade, like dealing Evander Kane who has 10 goals this season? (is 10 goals at the midway point of the season enough for a $5.25-million-a-year goal scorer?) Would you fire the coach to see if that shakes things up?
Now I’m not a fire the coach kind of guy guy, but I know that many Jets fans fall into that category. I believe Noel is getting as much as he can out of a hockey team that has a record that directly reflects the club’s level of talent. You certainly can’t knock the effort on Friday night against Florida or the effort on Sunday night against Vancouver, although you can be critical of Monday’s horrible loss in Edmonton. Occasionally — especially against lousy Eastern teams like the banged-up Panthers — the Jets look terrific.
But here are the facts: the Jets have played 39 games and they have 37 points. Based on history, in order to get a sniff of the playoffs, they’ll need to accumulate 58 points in the next 43 games. Is this team with these players and this coach capable of that?
That’s the question the Jets’ tall foreheads have to answer.