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Ailing Jets sink to new low

Players look lost, waiting for management's next move

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Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis (26) slipped past the Jets' defence to score the game-winning goal Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis (26) slipped past the Jets' defence to score the game-winning goal Tuesday night at the MTS Centre. Photo Store

No one but Kevin Cheveldayoff would be able to officially chronicle the number of hours he's spent mulling over what is killing his Winnipeg Jets these days, but we can gather it's a ton.

Still, while so many figure all the Jets' GM has to do is simply wave a magic wand to make all their ails disappear -- maybe that's a coaching change, a significant trade to shake up the talent core or both -- the man also has another issue boiling over here in the short term:

His team, frankly, is absolutely lost.

And that's not just represented by the frustration spit out to the masses by the players in the losses before Christmas and since with their usual refrains. There's more going on here now and it all seemed to culminate in what was heard after Tuesday's absolutely dreadful loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It wasn't just the terms "embarrassing" and "unacceptable" that jumped out -- after all, that's not anything everybody hasn't heard before -- but the defeatist tone that is now coming with every comment to the media.

And when a player like Mark Stuart -- a lunch-pail heart-and-soul guy and one of the team's alternate captains -- describes what's happening right now as "exhausting," then the alarm bells should be clanging for Cheveldayoff & Co.

"It's hard not to sound like a broken record here," said Stuart. "I mean, I don't really know what to say, to tell you the truth. I feel like I get in front of you guys and say the same thing every game. It's exhausting. It really is. It's a low point, it definitely is."

Now, it's a serious accusation to suggest the Jets, as a group, have thrown up the white flag on the 2013-14 season, what with 36 games still remaining.

But what we're seeing and hearing now is different: It's a crew waiting for management to do something, anything, that might help point them in the right direction. It might not ultimately be the answer, but it would at least represent an attempt to change something that is seriously busted.

After all, the script said this was supposed to be the season the Jets morphed into a playoff team, what with the quick move from Year 1 and last year's lockout-shortened campaign now in the rear-view mirror.

The core was locked up in the summer to spiffy new deals. The right side was shored up by adding Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi (who saw 42 seconds of ice time in the final two periods) and youngsters like Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba were ready to make significant contributions.

But the occasional flashes -- like the three-game winning streak after Christmas -- have been repeatedly followed by flameouts like the current four-game skid. Noel has tried everything from coddling to tough love and the players have become all-stars in saying all the right things, but seldom putting it into practice for more than eight- or nine-period stretches.

"This game was very poorly played and poorly executed," Noel said Tuesday night. "I don't think we got anything positive out of it.

"Playing like that, we're not taking steps in the right direction. For me, we've got a ways to go there."

Noel also used a now-common term when asked to describe his team before the Tampa game, referring to them as "consistently inconsistent."We'd suggest that's a polite way of saying, 'just not good enough.'

All of this in itself -- the embarrassment, the frustration, the exhaustion, the poor execution and the assumed waiting for management to fix it all -- doesn't speak well of the mental toughness of the Jets. Maybe that, more than anything, is the root of the problem with this bunch.

But this is no longer a team needing a shakeup, this is now a team begging for a shakeup. And that's not a subtle difference. It also screams out for Cheveldayoff to roll up his sleeves even further and get busy.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2014 D3

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