Jets’ management, and fans, needs to heed Blackhawks’ lesson


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Let's take a quick trip back in the hockey time machine. It was Oct. 13, 2011, and the Winnipeg Jets had just gone toe to toe with the mighty Chicago Blackhawks before a raucous, sold-out crowd at the United Center.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/12/2018 (1510 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Let’s take a quick trip back in the hockey time machine. It was Oct. 13, 2011, and the Winnipeg Jets had just gone toe to toe with the mighty Chicago Blackhawks before a raucous, sold-out crowd at the United Center.

Jim Slater gave the visitors a 1-0 lead just over four minutes into the game. Slater struck again moments later to make it 2-0. You probably couldn’t believe what you were seeing. I’m pretty sure Slater couldn’t believe what he was doing.

Of course, the joy in Jets head coach Claude Noel’s world proved to be temporary as the 2010 Stanley Cup champs seemingly decided enough was enough, flipped a switch and scored four goals before the midway point of the second period. Game, set, match.

(Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune/MCT) Winnipeg Jets' Jim Slater celebrates scoring on Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery in a game at the United Center in Chicago, October 13, 2011.

The Jets, bless their overmatched hearts, had given it everything they had in shooting for their first victory of the young season. There was still a palpable buzz about the NHL returning to Winnipeg, one that hadn’t been dulled despite a disappointing 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in their season-opener four days earlier. This game gave everyone hope. If the Jets could hang with a dynasty in the making, in a hostile road environment, then anything was possible.

The Blackhawks were everything the Jets aspired to be.

Heck, True North even plucked Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff right out of the Windy City, hoping to emulate their success, which would go on to include capturing two more Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015.

Fast forward to Friday night at the very same United Center. Aside from the thunderous applause that comes from Jim Cornelison’s always-stellar rendition of the anthems, and the playing of Chelsea Dagger whenever the home team scores (albeit much less than usual these days), nothing else is the same.

This is now a dysfunctional Chicago team trapped in a death spiral, where the light at the end of a tunnel is an oncoming train. They’ve already fired their Hall of Fame coach, only to see their porous play get even worse. They are in salary cap hell, with no relief in sight. Their AHL team is average at best, thanks to largely tapping out their farm system. Their star players, who carried them to glory, are now seen by many as anchors on a sinking ship. The fan base is miserable, with regular calls to trade everyone including high-priced players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. Father Time is the one opponent that simply can’t be beaten.

And the Jets? Well, for the second time in four days, Winnipeg opted to dress their backup goalie against the lowly Blackhawks, a team they’ve already beaten twice this season with relative ease, and four times in 2018. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the current state of these two organizations.

Winnipeg is a team on the rise, coming off a franchise-best season that included a trip to the Western Conference final. They are built largely on the backs of several rising young stars, players who have yet to hit their prime. They are big, skilled and fast, play an exciting brand of hockey and look poised to make another playoff run come spring time, and for several more years to come. They are a legitimate hockey heavyweight.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) The Chicago Blackhawks' raise a Stanley Cup championship banner in the United Center during a ceremony in 2015. The Blackhawks are the closest thing to a modern-day dynasty with three championships in five years.

The Jets are now everything the Blackhawks aspire to be.

Now, I’m not suggesting anyone feel sorry for Chicago. There are 30 other franchises right now that, if they could go back in time, would trade places with them in a heartbeat. Sure, they’re suffering today. But those three recent banners hanging from the rafters will never be taken away. They are the closest thing to a modern-day NHL dynasty we’re likely to see for some time, especially in salary cap era.

As much as the Chicago experience should provide plenty of valuable lessons for Winnipeg’s management going forward — and believe me, there are many when it comes to dealing with your core and handing out long-term contract extensions — the same can be said of the fan base in this city. Sports are cyclical. Your team may be really good today. But nothing in the game is permanent, and things can change awfully quick.

Cheveldayoff and his staff will no doubt closely study how the Blackhawks navigated the salary cap waters, which have essentially left that franchise in danger of drowning. How Jets management chart its own course will go a long way to determining how long Winnipeg’s window stays open, with big-money deals on the horizon for Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba, contracts that might force the exodus of a valuable player or two in the not-so-distant future.

Blackhawks fans likely wish they had the same worries these days as Jets fans, many of whom burn up the airwaves and social media platforms with hot takes about the occasional soft goal last season’s Vezina Trophy finalist Connor Hellebuyck lets in, why Brendan Lemieux is playing ahead of Nic Petan, why Sami Niku can’t find a spot in the lineup, and what the coach sees in Ben Chiarot and Tyler Myers, just to name a few.

Yet the wins keep coming at an impressive rate, often in very convincing fashion.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan Winnipeg Jets' general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will be looking at the Blackhawks' current difficulties when trying to navigate the Jets' future contract negotiations.

All of which is to make this point: live in the present. Savour the moment. Enjoy the ride. And take nothing for granted. Because as the fine folks of Chicago are learning, all good things eventually come to an end.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.


Updated on Saturday, December 15, 2018 8:31 AM CST: Headline changed.

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