PITTSBURGH -- There is a lot to like about the Winnipeg Jets. They’re a good story and if they get into the playoffs it will be a blast. But if there were any illusions about them being something more than a playoff contestant, they were shattered last night.
The Jets are not a contender. Not even close.
The Pittsburgh Penguins calmly cut them up in a 4-0 laugher Thursday night. The Penguins barely broke a sweat and certainly didn’t need to play in anger. This one was never in doubt.
Winnipeg may be the third seed in the Eastern Conference right now but it’s a mirage created by the NHL’s format where division winners are automatically placed in the top three.
The Jets and their 38 points would be the seventh seed in the East if not for the boost they’re getting from being the best in a woeful Southeast.
Winnipeg players looked forward to this game as a measuring stick. They got it and the results weren’t flattering.
Pittsburgh is an elite team situated in a group of maybe four or five teams atop the NHL. They may be even better, and all alone in their level of excellence. That’s what the playoffs will determine.
The Jets are far more ordinary, one of a glut of teams in the middle of the pack. They’re better than .500 and continually improving. But if the Penguins are the bar, the Jets have seasons and not games to go before they can call themselves true contenders.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff knows this. It’s what he’s paid to assess. He must remain cool-headed and with an eye on tomorrow while all the rest of us get sweaty with excitement.
It’s why he says things like, "we won’t sell the farm," in order to improve at the trade deadline. He doesn’t deal in fantasy. Cheveldayoff deals in reality. A reality which states the Jets are at best an average hockey team and one with myriad flaws.
Winnipeg has gaps in personnel that can’t be overcome in free agency or at the trade deadline. Deep organizational issues best repaired over time with the draft. Winnipeg has a shortage of prospects in the AHL and they are not very deep at the NHL level.
The Jets have one consistent line, an improving young goalie and a blueline with lots of warts.
The Jets have proven when they play together and follow coach Claude Noel’s instructions they can be a dangerous team. But the margin for error is beyond slim.
Winnipeg will most likely find its way into the playoffs. That’s an accomplishment and should be celebrated. But it shouldn’t be viewed as the end game.
It would be a hollow and short-lived victory. That’s why Cheveldayoff will be prudent leading up to the trade deadline and beyond. His work requires time and he’s only just begun.
So enjoy the ride. It might still be a great one. But this is just the kiddy carousel.
The big roller-coaster? The Jets aren’t tall enough for that ride just yet.