Glendale, Ariz. — Losing can’t go on forever and there must be a day of reckoning. It has arrived.
It’s time to give the Jets’ core group of players a boost, to trade a major part for a few smaller ones in order to supplement the talented heart of this team and help them reach their potential.
To continue waiting is to risk wasting their primes.
Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has done strong work with his draft-and-develop plan and there is potential as well as burgeoning depth in his organization.
But it’s clear his NHL group isn’t ready and you can argue they may never be. It’s time to push the whole package along a bit and make tomorrow come quicker.
Blake Wheeler is hitting his prime and playing the best hockey of his career.
Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom and Mark Stuart are all in the thick of their careers and at their peak. Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Ondrej Pavelec have been in the league for a number of seasons and are approaching their primes.
Only three members of the current Jets should be considered untouchables and they are Wheeler and rookies Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba.
The flowers have been planted and some have even sprouted but they’re in danger of wilting if they don’t get a little added nutrition. Fertilizer would be an apt analogy but no one wants players that can also be compared to manure.
To continue to wait and not make a major change to the Jets roster risks alienation of the team’s key players.
They want to win, too. And they’ve been patient and have signed up for the plan with long-term contracts. They want their faith rewarded with playoff games and a whiff of contention.
Frustration is sinking in and following Monday’s colossal collapse in Anaheim it was on display again.
"It’s frustrating. I don’t know. There’s not a whole lot to say right now, after a game like that. It’s shock. I don’t have a whole lot for you," said Stuart.
Wheeler was a little stronger in his assessment of the 5-4 loss featuring a blown four-goal lead.
"Just disgust. It’s a tough one to swallow. Tough to put into words," said Wheeler. "I don’t care who they are. You just can’t take your foot off the pedal in this league no matter who you’re playing. I’m not saying we necessarily did that, but it was too easy. We were too soft in the third period, and that’s what happens."
How much more losing can this group take before they begin to question the direction of the franchise?
Cheveldayoff hasn’t been in this position until very recently, but he can now deal from a position of strength. He’s got some chips to play and replacements in the pipe.
Just whisper the name Evander Kane at the NHL Draft in Philadelphia this June and watch the offers come zipping in.
An NHL GM recently told me Kane would fetch a major return — roster players as well as prospects and or picks depending on the team or the structure of the deal.
Others would bring interest but the combination of raw talent and age (he’s just 22) makes Kane major trade bait. Enstrom’s ability to create from the back end also makes him attractive to GMs. Enstrom would be a nice fit with a team ready to make a push into contender status, but the Jets would need a frontline defender in return if they moved him.
Bogosian has value but injuries have hampered his development and his selling price is likely down right now.
Little is one of the more underrated centres in the league and I wouldn’t move him. Ladd is the captain and has become a consistent mid-20s goal man and has two Stanley Cups on his resumé. The Jets need more of the experience Ladd has, not less of it.
Monday’s loss shouldn’t be used as an impetus to push the panic button.
But three years of missing the post-season in Winnipeg and seven straight on the outside with a core that has sawed its way through a number of coaches does provoke serious questions.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was promoting caution rather than haste on Tuesday.
"There is a certain extremism that goes to pro sports — I understand that," said Maurice. "It’s either really, really good or really, really bad. We’re on a path and we gotta work through all this stuff. Going through it’s not a bad thing for our hockey team, dealing with it. But going in and saying the final score tells us who you are or where you are, that’s just not the way to develop a hockey team."
"We’re on that path to find out how we’re supposed to play. The first two periods looked a lot closer to it, but (the Ducks) weren’t ready to play (early)... And if we clear a puck in the last minute, we’re talking about weathering the storm and staying in the fight.
"Our conversation is completely different on a minute of hockey. But it’s not the way it is today, so we gotta deal with exactly what happened last night. We had a big lead and we blew it in the third period. They were better than we were and how do we make that better?"
Draft and develop is the right strategy, but that doesn’t mean the Jets can’t put a little booster in their fuel and speed the process along.
Maurice is right in saying one game doesn’t tell the whole picture. One, however, can argue it’s easy for him to say that right now since he’s only been on board for a few months.
Others — players and fans in particular — have been watching this movie for a while and are ready for a different ending.