Scratching a seven-year itch

Jets must make major improvements if they want to end the NHL's second-longest playoff dry spell

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The critics are out there. Everywhere, it would seem. The Winnipeg Jets haven't made the playoffs in their three years in River City, some seven years if the final seasons in Atlanta are lumped in to crank up the angst level that much more.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/09/2014 (3005 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The critics are out there. Everywhere, it would seem. The Winnipeg Jets haven’t made the playoffs in their three years in River City, some seven years if the final seasons in Atlanta are lumped in to crank up the angst level that much more.

 

It’s the second-longest current playoff drought in the NHL — the Edmonton Oilers are on an eight-year dry spell dating back to 2005-06 — and if those in the business of making guesses prove to be soothsayers, it will mean another spring without post-season hockey lies ahead.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 'We need to take a step forward in a lot of different areas, but we feel we're capable of that.' — Andrew Ladd

The venerable Hockey News has the Jets finishing seventh, and last, in the Central Division.

Bookies in Vegas have the Jets as 5-to-2 long shots to make the playoffs, 12-to-1 to win their division and 66-to-1 to be slurping champagne from the Stanley Cup next June.

And so, it is with the backdrop of those hardly inspiring critiques that the Jets set to open another training camp with medicals and physicals on Thursday before Friday’s first on-ice session.

It’s also probably worth noting this about all that — the Jets care diddly and squat about what anybody outside of their own dressing room thinks.

“Ahhh… at the end of the day the games are played on the ice,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, waving off what is being said about his squad. “We’ve seen time in, time out how often free agency gets really built up but at the end of the day a lot of those things don’t work out for whatever reason.

“I don’t think we’re really worried about it as a group. We’re excited about what we have in that room and the way we played at the end of the year. We need to take a step forward in a lot of different areas, but we feel we’re capable of that as well.”

The Jets will open camp — the first under head coach Paul Maurice — with 50 players to evaluate (28 forwards, 16 defencemen and six goaltenders), including 2014 first-round pick Nik Ehlers, who was sensational at the Young Stars tournament in Penticton, B.C., 2013 first-rounder Josh Morrissey and a host of other prospects priming to push for work with the big club.

But it’s the returning core — players like Ladd, Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Michael Frolik, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Ondrej Pavelec, Mark Stuart, Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn — that management still has its fingers crossed can take the proverbial next step and morph into a playoff squad.

“We like our team,” said Trouba. “We trust in our team that we have in there and going forward that’s the team we want to have in there. I don’t think we want to move any guys. We’re a close team, we all get along really well and we’ve just got to put it out there on the ice, give it all we’ve got and believe in each other.”

That’s not an unexpected sentiment in September, when optimism always runs high. But the Jets added just two NHLers in free agency in Mathieu Perreault and T.J. Galiardi while the rest of the Central — which includes powerhouses like Chicago, St. Louis and Colorado and features playoff teams Minnesota and Dallas — loaded up over the summer.

“If you look on paper, teams got a lot better,” admitted Bogosian. “But you’ve just got to make sure that everyone steps into a bigger role this year and I think we’ve got the guys on this team that can do that, whether it’s a younger guy that maybe had a limited role last year or veteran guys that have been around for awhile.

“We have a good mixture of guys, it’s time for everyone to step up. Everyone knows that.”

Everyone also knows this, however: Patience may be a virtue, but even the most loyal fan base — a crew that lost its team before getting it back — gets a tad antsy when the building goes dark for the summer in mid-April.

“Every year before we even touch the ice people say that these teams are going to be in the finals or be a Stanley Cup favourite or these teams aren’t going to be in the playoffs,” said Little. “I hear it every year. I think the best thing is to not pay attention to it. How many times have you seen teams that have good playoff runs that aren’t even talked about at the beginning of the season? It happens all the time. It’s not really a big deal.”

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

jets training camp preview c2-3

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Updated on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 6:28 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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