Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets way below Kings, but taking their trail

Draft-and-develop payoff hopefully comes sooner

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EL SEGUNDO -- Two things have stood out in relation to the Winnipeg Jets while watching the Los Angeles Kings on their drive to the Stanley Cup. The Jets have a long way to go and very little margin for error in their pursuit of playing at the Kings' level.

The Jets, great story that they are, remain nowhere near being able to skate and compete in the post-season with a team like the Kings.

Firing the way they are right now, the Kings don't make defensive mistakes, their goalie has been impenetrable, and when their snipers get a chance, they convert. Such cohesive elite play is beyond the Jets' current horizon.

Not to be too blunt, but one has to question how many members of the current Jets could earn regular work with the Kings. A truthful and unemotional look at the equation leaves the Jets wanting in so many ways.

The Kings spent $29.1 million on their top six forwards and the Jets doled out $13.9 million on their first and second lines. Maybe Blake Wheeler, at the top of his game, could vie for ice among L.A.'s big six, but even that's in question. Dustin Penner is the one guy Wheeler could possibly push out of the picture.

The Kings are that much better than Winnipeg at this moment in time. It's a vast difference.

It doesn't stop up front, as the Kings' blue-line and depth in goal are way beyond what the Jets boast. Drew Doughty is far more complete a defender than anyone the Jets can dress. The Jets are strong in goal with Ondrej Pavelec, but he's got some growing to do to get to where Jonathan Quick is right now.

No, the Kings are better all over. By a wide margin.

The Jets are just beginning their development track, and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has had control of the roster for only 12 months. So the comparison is not meant to reflect poorly on the Winnipeg outfit or poke them in the eye. But it sets the standard and spells out very plainly how much the Jets must improve to skate at this time of year.

Cheveldayoff has preached draft and develop, and the Kings definitively underscore why that plan is the correct direction for the Jets.

Quick, Anze Kopitar, Doughty and Dustin Brown are all Kings draft picks and they are the heart of this franchise. Yes, the Kings have made trades for players like Mike Richards, but even that deal was done as a result of solid work at the draft table as Kings GM Dean Lombardi flipped some youth to get Richards when his foundation told him it was time to get a finishing piece and step into the elite.

L.A. didn't always use this approach, and it cost them dearly along the way.

The Montreal Canadiens once used a draft pick acquired from the Kings to draft Guy Lafleur. The Boston Bruins turned a pick delivered to them by the Kings into Ray Bourque. Those kinds of blunders will explain why a franchise can take 45 years to win a Stanley Cup.

Cheveldayoff knows the kind of free-agency signings that can speed up the process really aren't available to him. Zach Parise isn't picking Winnipeg if the Devils let him walk away. Sorry, but that's just reality.

It takes great players to win the Cup, and a lot of them. For the Jets, that's a long way off.

L.A.'s plan was started by Dave Taylor and finished by Lombardi and is seven years in the making.

That may seem like a long time, but it's a lot shorter than the 45 years some Kings fans have been waiting.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2012 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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