Members of the Winnipeg Jets management believed they had a playoff team heading into last season and fired head coach Claude Noel when he couldn't keep or even get the club into the Western Conference's top eight.
It appears Paul Maurice will face a challenge very similar to Noel's.
More and more, the 2014-15 Jets are looking like the 2013-14 Jets after GM Kevin Cheveldayoff brought back another of last year's forwards Wednesday.
The biggest difference will be Maurice. Or not. The folks that screamed for Noel's head will either be vindicated and Maurice will turn the same players who were losers under Noel into winners. Or not.
The segment that supported the, "it's the players, not the coach," theory will have their day of "I told you so."
Consider the 2014-15 season one great big litmus test.
Maurice enters his first full season as coach of the Jets with a long list of questions he will be trying to answer.
Can he get this group to play consistently at a much higher level?
Will Cheveldayoff become convinced it's time to begin parcelling off pieces of his core?
Or will this be the season a larger number of Cheveldayoff's prospects begin to push for NHL work and transform the bottom of the Jets roster?
Can the kids from St. John's and junior arrive in camp and create competition for NHL jobs that has been missing from the Thrashers-Jets organization for nearly its entire existence.
Lots of questions for a roster that at this point is very similar to last season's.
The Jets announced Wednesday they had re-signed forward Matt Halischuk to a one-year, two-way contract worth $725,000.
The 26-year-old Halischuk played 46 games with the Jets last season, collecting five goals and five assists.
The Jets now have 23 players on their NHL roster with just over $60 million in salary counting against the cap of $69 million for this season.
The only changes on the roster to date have seen centre Mathieu Perrault added with Olli Jokinen departing and backup goalie Michael Hutchinson moving in while Al Montoya is out. Forwards James Wright and Devin Setoguchi are also out.
The Jets do have a list of young prospects, including Josh Morrissey, Nic Petan, Adam Lowry, J.C. Lipon, Carl Klingberg and Brenden Kitchton that could press for work in Winnipeg next season. There are also depth players such as Eric O'Dell, John Albert, Patrice Cormier, Ben Chiarot and Julian Melchiori looking to crack the roster.
The Jets finished last season with a 37-35-10 mark for 84 points, which was seven points back of the last wild-card qualifier for the playoffs.
Maurice's task will be to get the same horses to gallop that Noel could barely get to trot.
Winnipeg has some nice pieces in its lineup but the draft-and-develop plan Cheveldayoff is employing has yet to provide roster depth and there is a sharp drop from the top-six forwards to the bottom six. On defence, the Jets have two pairings that can be classified as NHL calibre but the rest of the blue-line consists mostly of depth players.
Maurice will need to get a lot from his top-end players and hope to revive goalie Ondrej Pavelec's career or discover a diamond in the rough with Hutchinson.
This will be the fourth year of Cheveldayoff's tenure as GM of the Jets and while he's done a lot to improve the depth of the organization as a whole -- witnessed by his St. John's IceCaps reaching the AHL final -- the NHL team remains a work in progress.
The Jets have been waiting for the marriage of core players retained from the Atlanta Thrashers days of the organization and draft picks made since the organization arrived in Winnipeg in 2011 to result in a winning team.
So far, the engagement has failed to bear tangible fruit such as a post-season berth.
Cheveldayoff is more than willing to stand in the cold, unclothed but for his belief in his plan. His boss, Mark Chipman, is willing to stand right beside him.
Draft and develop, in their minds, is the only way to build a consistent contender. That model requires both patience and thick skin. It lacks the excitement of free agency and the allure of blockbuster trades.
Cheveldayoff and Chipman believe they are building a foundation and that a tipping point will arrive when their work provides tangible evidence in the form of playoff wins.
When? Fans are clamouring. That's the hard part. There's no time limit on this course and there's no guarantee it will succeed.
The adage it's always darkest before the dawn may end up applying to this season. Or, if Maurice is a magician, it could end up with a playoff spot.
Then again, Connor McDavid is out there in the mist, too.
email@example.com Twitter: @garylawless
BY THE NUMBERS
|PLAYER||2014-15 CAP HIT|
|GOALTENDERS (2)||(2) $4,475,000|
|Available cap space||$8,622,976|
— all figures according to Capgeek