Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How low can Jets go?

Losing now would mean drafting significantly higher in June

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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Every win now hurts. Maybe it feels good in the moment but it has the potential to damage the future of the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets are done. There will be no post-season for this team. They have too much ground to make up, too many teams to leapfrog and not enough track left to make it happen.

Winning a few more games won't help. Running the table wouldn't even guarantee a playoff spot. No, the Jets' playoff hopes will die either a slow death or quick one but they will expire.

Tanking and sinking as low as possible in the standings is now the best thing for this franchise. Nothing can be done about that, however, since no one is going to tell the players to quit and they wouldn't listen anyway. The outcome of the Jets' remaining games will not have a sinister conspiracy behind them and the taint of thrown games.

The makeup of the organization, from management to players, won't allow for such a plot. The message will be to fight and try to win, no matter what impact meaningless wins now have on the organization's big-picture view.

The club's initial burst under new coach Paul Maurice has given way to a sickening slump down the stretch. Just three wins in their last 12 games. All their good work undone. Today is over and it's now time to ponder tomorrow.

In that light, the Jets are playing for draft position. Lose more, draft higher. Win more, draft lower.

If the NHL season ended today, the Jets would finish 23rd overall and own the eighth pick in the draft prior to the lottery. The lower they fall in the standings the better their odds in the lottery and a chance at the first pick overall.

All 14 teams finishing out of the playoffs have a chance at the No. 1 pick through the lottery, with the odds weighted to give the worst teams the best chance. The 30th-place team has a 25 per cent chance of picking first. The 23rd-place team has a 3.6 per cent chance of moving up to first.

Looking at the league standings, the Jets could slip to finish as low as 26th or they could win a few and climb to as high 20th. Who knows? If this team has been anything, it's been unpredictable.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has had his greatest impact on the franchise at the draft table. Two of his first-round selections are already contributing at the NHL level and will soon be the team's most important players. Centre Mark Scheifele will be the team's No. 1 pivot next season and defenceman Jacob Trouba will continue to grow and develop until he's the leader of the blue-line. Many NHL types consider Trouba a Norris Trophy candidate in the making.

Cheveldayoff selected Scheifele seventh overall in 2011 and Trouba went in the ninth spot in 2012. Last summer the Jets used their 13th overall pick to grab defenceman Josh Morrissey and he's among the best at his trade in major junior hockey.

So Cheveldayoff can get the job done without having a top-five pick. But the closer he gets to the front of the line, the better chance he has of hitting a home run.

The benefit of missing the playoffs is it gives an organization a chance to get better and depending on how a high team picks, it can change the outlook of a franchise for years to come. Think Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

The other side of the coin is a team can have all the high first-round picks in the world and still get it wrong. Hello, Edmonton Oilers.

But that's not Cheveldayoff. He's proven he can take full advantage of his selections.

The lower the Jets drop, the better their lottery odds and the higher their pick.

So cheer all you like for the wins. But don't be mad at yourself if secretly you enjoy the losses just a little.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

 

Top 10 prospects

The Jets are now playing for a draft pick and here’s a look at the top 10 prospects:

1. Aaron Ekblad
Team: Barrie Colts (OHL)    
Position: Defence    
Height / weight: 6-4, 216 lbs.
Imagine this giant paired with Jacob Trouba. The Jets would have a pair of twin towers on their blue-line for the next decade or more.

2. Sam Reinhart
Team: Kootenay Ice (WHL)    
Position: Centre    
Height / weight: 6-1, 185 lbs.
A leader with top-end hockey sense. Son of former NHLer Paul Reinhart. Finished fourth in the WHL in scoring with a career-high 105 points (36 goals, 69 assists) in 60 regular-season games.

3. Sam Bennett
Team: Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)    
Position: Centre    
Height / weight: 6-0, 178 lbs.
Crazy speed and elite hockey sense. Makes others around him better and is dominant at junior level.

4. Michael Dal Colle
Team: Oshawa Generals (OHL)    
Position: Left-winger    
Height / weight: 6-2, 171 lbs.
Just growing into his frame but already shows the balance and desire for physical action to be an effective power forward. Guessing on how far his upside can go is the key when drafting this player.

5. Leon Draisaitl
Team: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)    
Position: Left-winger    
Height / weight: 6-1, 208 lbs.
Mix of skill and power. Sees the ice well and is predicted to develop into a strong two-way centre. Skating is improving but has lots of room to grow in this area.

6. Haydn Fleury
Team: Red Deer Rebels (WHL)    
Position: Defence
Height / weight: 6-2, 207 lbs.
Big, smart and skilled. The question on Fleury is whether his skating will allow him to be a dominant NHLer. Slows the game down and makes all the right decisions in junior. But can he do the same at the pro level?

7. Nick Ritchie
Team: Peterborough Petes (OHL)    
Position: Left-winger    
Height / weight: 6-2, 218 lbs.
Might be a sleeper and a team might move him up to the Top 5. Dominant player, who uses his size and an elite shot to overpower in junior. Lots are beginning to believe his game will smoothly transition to the NHL.

8. Brendan Perlini
Team: Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)    
Position: Left-winger    
Height / weight: 6-2, 205 lbs.
Superior skating should make him a solid pro and maybe an elite one. Has a great release and already owns a pro shot that will only get better as he gets stronger.

9. Kasperi Kapanen
Team: KalPa (Finnish Elite League)    
Position: Right-winger    
Height / weight: 5-11, 172 lbs.
Son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen and has the same ability to score. Real good at making plays in tight areas. Size is an issue and could prevent him from being more than a strong second- or third-line NHL player.

10. Jake Virtanen
Team: Calgary Hitmen (WHL)    
Position: Right-winger    
Height / weight: 6-0, 213 lbs.
Speed, size and an elite shot. Virtanen has shown flashes that make some scouts believe he can be a dominant top-line winger in the NHL.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2014 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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