Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's time to make the cut

Jets guys know they better start walking the talk

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The general manager spent an off day tinkering with the lineup by making two trades.

The coach then tells a media throng a few hours later he doesn't like the way his team is playing, admits his patience is waning and publicly demands more.

And so, given their place in the standings and an angered management, hardly a soul in the Winnipeg Jets dressing room seemed the least surprised when the locker occupied by Alex Ponikarovsky on Tuesday had a new nameplate on it Thursday that reads "E. Tangradi #27."

Welcome to pro hockey. And welcome to life on a team that is 5-6-1 and still searching for some semblance of a winning blueprint.

"Heads will roll. That's kind of the way it works when things aren't going the way they should be," Blake Wheeler said after Thursday's practice. "There's going to be changes made. That's what happens.

"You hate to see guys leave. Poni's a great guy, a great teammate, and we wish him all the best. But the organization is going to do whatever they feel is going to get this team where we all think we should be. And if that means shuffling the cards a little bit, then that's what it's going to be."

But here's the thing: Even as Wheeler was speaking, he seemed to know his words had been heard many, many times before. This is a crew that has made many promises about establishing a winning culture, about a commitment to defence, and so on and so on.

The results have been mixed, at best.

"Talk is cheap, man," Wheeler said. "You can talk in the media, you can talk in the locker-room about what needs to be done. I think we've done that in the past. We've told you guys what we need to do better and told each other what we need to do better, but at the end of the day, it's inconsistent on the ice. That's where the results need to be, and it needs to be all the time, not just when we get a kick in the butt, when we have a tough loss.

"We need to do it all the time if we're going to be the team that I think we are and we are capable of being. We're not up to that standard yet."

What Wednesday's deal revealed -- other than swapping a 32-year-old vet on the downside for a 24-year-old now with his third organization, but still with upside -- is that Kevin Cheveldayoff, Claude Noel & Co. have grown weary of waiting for this bunch to take the proverbial next step in its development, and if the inconsistency continues, more nameplates in the room may soon change.

Said veteran Olli Jokinen: "At the end of the day, we're the ones who should take the blame on the trades. If we were 12-0, I don't think there would be any trades."

The Jets are entering a nasty weekend in which Eastern Conference heavyweights Pittsburgh and Boston roll into town before the club heads out on the longest road trip of the season, with stops in Buffalo, Carolina, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Manhattan to face the Rangers.

Yes, if 5-6-1 isn't acceptable now, just imagine how cranky this bunch could be in a couple of weeks.

"Where do we stand at the quarter pole? I don't like the way we play," Noel said Thursday. "I just don't think we play hard enough. We have to play harder. We have to win more battles and we have to play with way more urgency.

"We're one game below .500. There isn't a panic or anything, but we know we can get better. We have to play harder and we need more production from more players -- it's that simple. If I get more 'A' games, everything else will look after itself.

"We've played 12 games and it's time to get going now. The patience factor is out the door. It's time to get going here. Let's get playing."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2013 C2

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