Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 04/24/2013 3:20 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 04/24/2013 9:33 AM | Updates
Acceptance had already begun to creep onto Bryan Little's face just seconds after Alex Ovechkin's empty-net goal had nestled into the mesh.
That same feeling likely began to sink in for Winnipeg Jets fans all across this province and beyond.
Little, who could be seen on the bench wearing a mix of emotions on his face, had played hard along with his teammates, but not well enough against a Washington Capitals team with more skill, depth and experience.
The 5-3 loss left the Jets still out of the playoff picture with just one regular-season game to play on their schedule. Only help from other places can rescue any chance of post-season games in Winnipeg.
Someone else will have to collapse for the Jets to get into the playoffs, and while all of Winnipeg would accept an insincere invitation to the dance, the team's presence there wouldn't change the fact they aren't quite ready.
The look on Little's face articulated emotions he likely couldn't and wouldn't put into words. It spoke of disappointment and frustration and a little bit of resignation. The Jets simply aren't as good as teams like the Capitals. Little may not be ready to admit it, but he must know it.
"They're more skilled than us," Jets coach Claude Noel said as part of his explanation of Tuesday's loss to Washington, summing up the reality of his team when matched against playoff-calibre competition.
Winnipeg's top four forwards -- Andrew Ladd, Little, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane -- have combined for 150 points this season while the combination of the other 10 players they've used up front totalled just 82.
That's an average of less than 10 points per man from two-thirds of the second line as well as all of the third and fourth sets. That's not good enough.
There needs to be more push from the bottom of the lineup. More push from the farm.
Next season, the organization will welcome Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Adam Lowry, getting an immediate upgrade of young talent.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a lot of freedom in terms of contracts this summer and he'll be able to do some reshaping of the bottom end of his roster. He'll have to. The group he was left by the previous administration wasn't good enough, and so far, Cheveldayoff hasn't had much opportunity to retool. He will this off-season, with lots of salary-cap flexibility heading into an intriguing marketplace.
Most of the Jets' core pieces got better this season. Ladd, Little and Zach Bogosian took major steps. The same can be said to a lesser degree about Kane and Wheeler.
Now Cheveldayoff must get them more help.
Some players will have to go. Cheveldayoff needs to turn the soil this summer and bring in new answers to some of his problems.
Noel got more out of this roster this year than he did the year before. There have been some obstacles -- or built-in excuses, depending on one's angle -- that won't be in play next season. No franchise transfer, no lockout and no shortened season, just a regular off-season followed by a training camp and an 82-game schedule. It will be time for Noel to be judged.
Winnipeg has gotten better and if by some turn of fate they get into the playoffs, there will be tangible evidence to support that assertion.
Even if they don't, they will have played all 48 games of this schedule in meaningful circumstances.
This will have been more than a light rapping on the door.
The Jets banged hard on it and if the great Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips were around, his authentic "next year we'll kick the son of a (expletive) in" speech might resonate well with this group.
The best, Jets fans are forced to hope, is yet to come.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2013 C3
Updated on Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 7:35 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds video
9:33 AM: corrects typo
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Hockey Manitoba still doesn't get the message
Time to turf police turf war
Tell the gossips you'll take them on
Follow the script
No-churn ice cream gives you all the creamy taste with none of the hassle
That empty (nest) feeling
Long wait over for odd-couple cop show
Try to win back her affections, but don’t text
PC leader keeps far from flood fight's crucial front lines
Fringe flap gets ugly
Dungy would deny Sam the opportunity he was given
Council ripe for third-party rule?
PST court challenge was risky political ruse
'I could have texted all night': Selfie a modern My Fair Lady
Good idea to leave town to escape ex-girlfriend
Wiener dog a wonder at weight loss
Peacock network regains top spot
I say, they've noticed our potential in London
Blowing up bad music an explosive idea
Proposed daily limits, labelling rules to give consumers better handle on sugar intake
Ease daughter's friend out of your bed, home
Keep your hands off hunk you supervise
Call inquiry into city hall's rotten, fetid mess
Fringe festival has revolutionary roots
A century-old love story
Inspecting crops with drones? It will happen
Couple struggles to cope with disability
Your weekend weather
Breeding population just ducky on Prairies
Help mom expand her social life outside of family
Whipping exposes abundant flaws
Going ape over motion capture
The globetrotter's portfolio: Canadian investors should seek returns beyond their own backyard
Ta-ta, traditional TV
Feel free to ignore the Gris
Canadians show more apathy than hostility toward organized religion
Lacklustre Blue didn't help their bottom line
The dog and his noisy duck are quack-ers