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Options for Jets lineup clear as mud

Toughness a factor in determining final roster

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With only a whiff of a hint, and an uncertain one at that, of what he might do in the coming few days, Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel did have one phrase to sum up his game plan for the next few days.

For the team's final two pre-season games, both against the Boston Bruins and starting tonight at the MTS Centre, Noel has to make a lineup and a roster-determining strategy out of: "different agendas I have to put together."

For tonight at home and Friday night in Saskatoon, Noel has one eye firmly focused on the first game that counts, next Tuesday's Game 1 of the NHL regular season in Edmonton.

But he's also got some unresolved battles within the lineup. The team has 24 skaters remaining in training camp, and there is only room for 21 of them on the roster that must be submitted and approved by the NHL on Monday afternoon.

The majority of spots are set but the list of names will have something do with the preference to keep eight defencemen or seven, and 14 forwards or 13, where the combination obviously must equal 21.

"It really depends but a lot of times you go with two extra forwards and seven defencemen," the coach said, asked what his past preference has been. "That's kind of the way you go but it really depends on who the players are and what you've got and what your needs are.

"I know I'm not giving you clear-cut answers but they're not clear-cut right now."

He said some of the final decisions will be made on the basis of how much toughness -- or not -- the Jets prefer.

As for tonight, much was unclear, including the availability of defenceman Zach Bogosian, who left Monday's pre-season game in Edmonton. He did not skate on Wednesday.

"He's day-to-day," Noel said. "Is he a player Thursday? We're not sure yet."

The Jets were able to get their workout down to one group on Wednesday for a first time, that helpful in itself, Noel said.

"The problem you get part-way through camp is that your numbers are too big for one group and too small for two groups and it's kind of in between," he said. "I felt today was better from a managing standpoint. A lot better for the players, too."

Having the bulk of the projected team together for the final two exhibition games seems like a priority, though not set in stone.

"We'd like to try to first of all try to win the game and try to get as many of our players as we can into the game," Noel said. "Providing there are no health issues. We'd try to field a good lineup for both games.

"The players haven't played together that much. We'd like to see them together a little bit more."

Togetherness came up more than once during Wednesday's work day.

During practice, the coach barked seriously at his charges about communicating, and that will also be one of the priorities when the team heads for a mini-retreat in Banff for two-plus days after the brief stop in Saskatoon.

"There are things in Banff, we're doing, for example, to try to elevate that communication," he said. "There are a couple of objectives. We're not going to Banff for the sake of going to Banff. We're going there because it's close to Edmonton and it fits in the schedule.

"Building team cohesion is certainly one of them so we have some plans there to try to get our team, our group closer in some fashion so we can help them through the process of finding a way to win.

"It's a nice place, we want to get together and do some things and there's a lot of activity we have there for a purpose."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2013 D2

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