Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If at first you don't succeed, get worse

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Watching the Pittsburgh Penguins in action, one has to wonder if the expectations being placed on the Winnipeg Jets aren't doing more harm than good.

This constant push for the Jets to be a playoff team when it's obvious they are a fringe contender at best, can be viewed as counterproductive.

The Jets buzzed and buzzed Friday night but in the end, their talent proved inferior. Pittsburgh's finishers finished. Their goalie was almost perfect. What a difference a legitimately elite player -- something the Jets do not have -- would have made.

There's no arguing it's better to draft first than 10th. The Jets are stuck in the middle as a result of trying so hard to be more. It's admirable, but in a way self-defeating.

The Penguins, as they are currently constructed, were built on the pillars of bankruptcy, indifference, futility and finally luck, in the form of a lottery pick named Sidney Crosby.

Not exactly the mission statement of the Winnipeg Jets.

But it's easy to argue the Jets would be better off forgetting about a playoff spot and engage in a total rebuild. One that starts with a full gut of the franchise, not a room-by-room renovation.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff could forget about trying to cobble together a team by constantly working to squeak into the playoffs and focus his resources on collecting assets for tomorrow.

Picking first, second or third at the draft increases the opportunity of getting a franchise-type player. A player like Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin, who might change an organization's destiny.

Rebuild

Certainly, good players can be had beyond the top three. Jacob Trouba appears to be a veritable steal from the nine-spot last summer, but the chances of a big payoff diminish quickly after the top few picks.

The pain involved in a total rebuild, however, is very real and difficult to sell to fans. Factor in Winnipeg's 15 years of being forced to watch the NHL on the tube and it borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

But rock-bottom has its benefits. Pittsburgh picked either first or second overall four straight years, taking Marc-Andre Fleury (first in 2003), Evgeni Malkin (second in 2004), Crosby (first in 2005) and Jordan Staal (second in 2006).

The Pittsburgh Penguins are great because they sucked.

The Jets have nothing that remotely resembles Crosby, Malkin or Fleury. Getting players of that calibre is difficult. The easiest way is to select at the top of the draft.

The Jets must draft and develop; it's their only path to success. Picking first or close to it would better the odds.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2013 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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