By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck
The Winnipeg Jets are a strange lot. They do things that just make no sense and, obviously, that’s a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved before the Jets will ever be a playoff team.
Theories are varied and we have our own. The Jets are, on the surface, an unproven commodity. This is a team that makes about as much sense as most of the world’s debunked conspiracy theories.
The Go Big or Go Home Theory:
The Jets are a big-game team. That’s true sometimes.
They have no problem “bringing it” in games in which they face tough opposition. The Jets have played very well against such playoff-bound teams as St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas and San Jose.
In last Monday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks, the Jets controlled play and the scoreboard through two periods, amassing four goals in what should have been a comfortable win. The problem is, the Jets rarely play a 60-minute game.
The best teams in the league can play shutdown hockey after being up by four goals. Teams like Boston, St. Louis and Chicago can do it when they’re up by one. The Jets? They collapsed. It was as if Noelian times had descended once again on this team. One goal spelled disaster and led to five unanswered in the late second period (1) the third (3) and 16 seconds of overtime (1).
It was a Jekyll and Hyde moment for the Jets, and a moment that has been witnessed before over the course of the season and the two that came before it.
The Dumb Down Theory
Everything that the Winnipeg Jets do well in “big games” is trumped by what they don’t do so well in games that have less meaning against what could be called “weaker teams.” Of course, in the NHL, every game has meaning and any team can win on any night. Points matter. The Jets, however, rarely show the same amount of winning prowess in games against lesser teams.
The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the results.
The Jets lost some pretty bad games this year. A 4-2 loss in Buffalo on December 17th, followed by a 6-2 loss to Edmonton just five days later look terrible when you put those games up to ones like their 3-1 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks back in January. They also lost “close” games to Edmonton in overtime and Calgary — a team that was sporting the sieve-like Reto Berra between the pipes — in the shootout. That’s eight possible points right there. Throw in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers and a shootout loss to the New York Islanders at home and it paints a picture.
Any team, any night, right? But this is more than just that. This is a trend that has been going on for the three seasons this team has been in Winnipeg.
Does it just come down to good ol’ inconsistency? Sorry, I’m not convinced that makes sense.
Is it a mental thing? Perhaps. It could very well be complacency, but when do they learn then? Losses to the teams mentioned above should result in teaching moments, but neither Claude Noel, nor Paul Maurice have been able put a finger on it.
The Put Up or Shut Up Theory:
The goal the Jets put forth at the beginning of the year (and the years before that) was one of playoff hockey. This team was ready to make the jump into the postseason and they figured they had the right mix in the dressing room to do so. By Christmas time that was dead. Noel was fired shortly thereafter and Maurice gave this team a breath of life for 15 or so games before they regressed back to what they are: mediocre.
If the message is playoffs then you have to do what it takes to make it there. That means, among other things, winning very winnable games. Teams like San Jose and Boston do both. They win the tough games and they win games against lesser opponents, often with their back-up netminder. The Jets are still trying to figure out which goaltender is the starting back-up. It’s a mess and it makes no sense.
Talk is cheap and often, so is the effort the Jets exhibit in games they just need to win.
The It Is What It Is Theory:
No, that’s not Dustin Byfuglien speaking. The Jets are who they are and who we thought they were. Every new season starts with a new hope, but who were we kidding? Devin Setoguchi?
Anyway, this team is pretty much the same as it was in the previous two years in the ‘Peg. As a result, they garner similar results. They are a .500 team, they still have unresolved issues in the crease, they have the same issues with depth — issues that proved falal when Mark Scheifele went down with injury.
The state of the Jets heading into this offseason is very much the same as the ones that came before it. What needs to be different is the actions taken by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and his brain trust.
This team has some of the pieces. Blake Wheeler has proven his worth, even with this lengthy goal scoring drought. Michael Frolik has been a sight for sore eyes. Jacob Trouba and Scheifele have shown many, many good things. Ladd, Little even Jokinen have had very good stretches.
However, playoff-bound teams make sense. Stanley Cup winners make sense.
The Jets just don’t. So it’s no surprise that “playoff” and “Stanley Cup” aren’t in their vocabulary.