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The numbers don't lie: Jets should be sellers at NHL's trade deadline

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It's becoming apparent the Winnipeg Jets will need to take a step or two back before they can take major strides forward. That will mean more losing.

Boiled down, the Jets aren't good enough to win at the required clip to reach the playoffs and that won't change overnight. They're just good enough to whet our appetite but probably not ready to satisfy us.

Those waiting on a trade for a big-time sniper like Teemu Selanne should expect to be disappointed.

"We're trying to win hockey games. That's what we're all about," said Jets co-owner Mark Chipman during a Q and A at the Free Press News Cafe on Monday. "If there was a way where we thought we could bring him in here, we would to that. But I would also tell you, we're not going to mortgage our future to do that. As (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) has said over and over again -- and we're just through our 40-game review -- we're about building this team through the assets we have and through the draft... We wouldn't mortgage or put at risk our future, our draft picks or any of our young talent in order to bring in a player like Teemu or anyone else on a short-term basis."

The Jets currently find themselves in the bottom half of the middle third of the league, which is an unfortunate spot to be in. It's not good enough to be in the playoffs but too good to get a lottery pick in this summer's entry draft.

The team is inconsistent, soft on the road and too short on talent to mount a legitmate playoff charge. Yes, the club was excellent in December when they played most of their games at home but recent adversity such as injuries and having to actually go on the road for some games has proven crippling.

Most teams in the NHL will dip when they lose their leading scorer and top two defencemen as the Jets have this month, but it's been devastating for this team to play without Blake Wheeler and blue-liners Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian.

Holes

There just aren't enough pieces to go around and fill the holes.

The Jets struggle to score goals (they're 23rd in the league with an average of 2.5 goals per game) and keep them out of their net (20th in the league with an average of 2.84).

Those numbers are major indicators of how a team will fare and when they're both subpar, as they are in Winnipeg, it tells the story. The Jets just aren't good enough right now.

Some are suggesting trading assets at this point to try and stay in the hunt, but as Chipman suggests, Cheveldayoff won't be tempted.

Whether the Jets can find a way to squeeze into the post-season will remain an unknown for a while longer but one thing we can be certain of is Cheveldayoff won't be moving youth or draft picks.

Deals made at this time of the season in a misguided attempt to reach the post-season can haunt a team for years.

Jets management has moved slowly from the moment they took possession of the franchise in an effort to develop a clear and thorough picture of what they had.

One can assume they now have a better handle on what they have and where they need to improve. But the remodel can't be done with a few mid-season trades. It goes well beyond that.

That's not to say Cheveldayoff won't be active leading up to the Feb. 27 roster freeze but you should expect the Jets to be sellers. Winnipeg's veteran players should be nervous from now until the trade deadline, especially if their contracts make them easy to move. Any chance Cheveldayoff has to collect a draft pick or prospect should be considered.

Just as important, his vision is shared by Chipman and there will be no hijacking of the process from the owner's suite.

The handwringing right now is understandable. Everyone wants the team to win now -- Cheveldayoff and Chipman included. But Cheveldayoff can't make fantasy trades in an instant and a plan is paramount.

Sticking to it might be hard to watch. But it can't be for the man with the keys to the car. Dreaming and trading is like drinking and driving. It will cost you those keys.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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