Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Taking stock of division

Jets, southeast rivals make off-season moves to shake up squads

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Many, many moons ago a cub reporter was welcomed into the office of Mike Smith -- then the man in charge of the Winnipeg Jets -- for a catching-up-on-the-summer, one-on-one chat.

It had been a busy July and August in the NHL as teams had been active in upgrading their talent through trades or free agency.

Everybody, it seemed at the time, but the Jets.

And so Smith was asked if he felt the aggressive moves made by the Jets' rivals in the Smythe Division meant he had to do more to keep pace.

His answer still sticks with yours truly to this day:

"Look," began Smith, clearly agitated, "all this isn't a (insert very bad word) chess match, OK?"

We were reminded of that exchange this week while putting together a look-see at how the current Jets have fared this summer at augmenting their roster in comparison to the rest of their Southeast Division rivals.

Now, what Smith said all those years ago does have some validity: a team must stick to its core blueprint if it wants to enjoy consistent long-term success. But it's also naive to think commitment to the blueprint can't sometimes be tested or be completely abandoned when rivals are loading up for a playoff run. It doesn't have to be all of one approach or the other.

All of which brings us to the Jets of the summer of 2012...

It's been quiet of late -- the threat of a potential lockout tends to suck the life out of the usual excitement that leads up to training camp -- but the Jets did take an interesting approach this off-season.

In short, the Jets did play a bit of a (insert very bad word) chess match in keeping pace with their rivals while still sticking to their blueprint of building through the draft and around a young talent corps.

The Jets lost a couple of character guys in veterans Tanner Glass and Chris Mason, but also filled some very glaring holes -- the need for more size and a bona fide No. 1 centre -- with the additions of Olli Jokinen and Alex Ponikarovsky. The signing of those two vets -- Jokinen is 33, Ponikarovsky is 32 -- also allows the organization time to develop some of its prized prospects such as Mark Scheifele and Ivan Telegin.

In an effort to provide a break from the collective-bargaining-agreement chatter, here's a quick refresher on what teams in the Southeast Division did this summer:

 

Florida Panthers

Last year: 38-26-18, 94 points; 1st in Southeast Division; 3rd in Eastern Conference.

Jets vs. Panthers: Winnipeg went 3-2-1.

Who they added: D Filip Kuba; RW George Parros; C Peter Mueller.

Who has exited: D Jason Garrison; RW Mikael Samuelsson; LW Wojtek Wolski; RW Krys Barch.

Analysis: Losing Garrison, who had 16 goals last year, takes some oomph out of the offence. Mueller was a shrewd pickup but it's what the Panthers haven't done yet -- address their need to upgrade the goaltending duo of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen (Roberto Luongo?) -- that could be their biggest splash of the off-season.

 

Washington Capitals

Last year:42-32-8, 92 points; 2nd in Southeast Division; 7th in Eastern Conference.

Jets vs. Capitals: Jets were 4-1-1 against Washington.

Who they added: C Mike Ribeiro; LW Wojtek Wolski; D Jack Hillen; RW Joey Crabb; C Ryan Stoa.

Who has exited: RW Alex Semin; G Tomas Vokoun; D Dennis Wideman; RW Mike Knuble; C Jeff Halpern; C Cody Eakin.

Analysis: New coach Adam Oates steps in after a crazy 2011-12 season in which Bruce Boudreau was fired and Dale Hunter took over, in which the Caps failed to finish first in the division for the first time in five years and then took out the Boston Bruins in the playoffs. Ribeiro will be a solid No. 2 centre and the Caps will hitch their cart to Braden Holtby as their top goaltender. Tons of questions remain, but it's difficult to call them an elite club anymore.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last year: 38-36-8, 84 points; 3rd in Southeast Division; 10th in Eastern Conference.

Jets vs. Lightning: Winnipeg was 3-1-2 against the Bolts.

Who they added: G Anders Lindback; D Sami Salo; D Matt Carle, LW Benoit Pouilot; RW B.J. Crombeen; D Matt Taormina.

Who has exited: D Bruno Gervais. UFAs: D Brett Clark, D Mike Commodore; C Ryan Shannon; G Dwayne Roloson.

Analysis: GM Steve Yzerman's aggressive overhaul of a squad that under-delivered in 2011-12 after going to the conference final a year earlier continued through the summer. Salo and Carle are Top 4 defencemen while Lindback, although his resumé is thin, could be the No. 1 goalie they covet.

 

Winnipeg Jets

Last year: 37-35-10, 84 points; 4th in Southeast Division; 11th in Eastern Conference.

Who they added: C Olli Jokinen; W Alex Ponikarovsky; G Al Montoya

Who has exited: W Tanner Glass (Pitt.); G Chris Mason (Nash.); C/W Tim Stapleton (KHL).

Analysis: Play along while we try to connect some dots for the Jets: adding some size -- not bangers, but guys difficult to steal the puck from -- makes the team tougher to play againstless trouble on the road and on all those back-to-back gamesplayoff spot. All that said, the Jets were eight points out of the playoffs last year and look to remain a bubble team in 2012-13.

 

Carolina Hurricanes

Last year: 33-33-16, 82 points; last in Southeast Division; 12th in Eastern Conference.

Jets vs. Hurricanes: Winnipeg was 4-2-0.

Who they added: C Jordan Staal, RW Alex Semin; D Joe Corvo; D Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Who has exited: C Brandon Sutter; D Bryan Allen; D Brian Dumoulin; D Derek Joslin.

Analysis: Made as big a splash as any NHL team this summer in an effort to stop this ugly trend: the Canes have missed the playoffs five of the last six seasons. Staal helps, while the immensely skilled Semin could be a huge addition IF he is even the least bit inspired.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2012 C2

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