Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets should emerge as contender, eventually

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OTTAWA -- They're calling it the Fail for Nail around here with the Senators, Winnipeg Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets considered the front-runners.

Nail Yakupov is the consensus No. 1 pick for next summer's NHL entry draft and the Russian winger has teams wondering whether finishing 30th in the league isn't the worst thing that could happen.

Yakupov scored 49 goals and 52 assists with the OHL's Sarnia Sting last season and already has eight goals and 18 assists in 11 games this season.

USA Today's first NHL power poll of the season was released on Thursday with the Jets ranked 28th in the league, just ahead of the Sens at 29 and the Columbus Blue Jackets in dead last. Thursday night's 4-1 loss to Ottawa might make those rankings out of date already.

The Jets have a long way to go and many holes to fill before they can call themselves a contender.

Senators GM Brian Murray says patience is the key to transforming into a competitor.

"It's hard. There's no doubt about it," said Murray, who has overseen rebuild jobs in Anaheim and Florida and is now embarking on one in Ottawa. "We were lucky in Anaheim in that we were able to draft (Ryan) Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the same year. Then we got Bobby Ryan and all of a sudden your franchise is competitive."

Murray is credited with building the foundation in Anaheim that Brian Burke later put some finishing touches on that resulted in a Stanley Cup.

"It's frustrating for fans and management and players and you hope it's worth it," said Murray. "You have to decide for your organization if it's better to finish just out of the playoffs or near the bottom. Last year we thought we would be better and we signed a few free agents and then it didn't pan out. So then the approach was, do we want to pick 10th or near the top. Sometimes it's worth it, to get the top gem in the draft is worth paying the price for. But finishing out of the playoffs is no fun."

Jets fans want to see their team win, but it's obvious this team is not a contender. Management is unlikely to spend money or make moves for today, but will instead look to stock draft picks as part of a long-range plan.

"Patience is important. The good thing about the Winnipeg franchise is that they already have a few good young players coming," said Murray. "The last couple of years in Atlanta they were down a bit and they have a group of players that are going to grow and be competitive."

Murray says winning isn't easy in the NHL and fans have to buy into a rebuild project.

"Eventually, and hopefully that eventually isn't too long, you'll be a competitor," he said.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 21, 2011 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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