Five things the Jets can learn from this year’s playoffs Habs, Lighting have found a formula for success

MONTREAL — Be honest, Winnipeg Jets fans. How many of you have tuned out the Stanley Cup final simply out of spite?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/07/2021 (525 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MONTREAL — Be honest, Winnipeg Jets fans. How many of you have tuned out the Stanley Cup final simply out of spite?

After all, seeing the Montreal Canadiens, the team that crushed your hopes and dreams, do battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the biggest hockey stage has to sting at least a little bit. So it would be understandable if you decided to take a pass rather than re-open a still very fresh wound, electing to occupy your time with something more fulfilling such as re-organizing your sock drawer, trimming your nose hairs or watching The Masked Singer.

Regardless of your personal habits, there’s no question the powers-that-be within the Jets organization are keeping a close eye on things. And, for their sake, hopefully taking some notes in addition to muttering under their breath how it coulda, woulda, shoulda been them playing for all the glory.

As the old saying goes, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And there are plenty of lessons to be learned from this year’s finalists which, if applied properly, might help them ultimately get to the promised land.

There’s no guarantee, of course. Hockey, more than any other major sport, requires an incredible amount of good luck and good fortune to win it all. And every year, there will be 31 (32 starting next season) teams who come up short of their ultimate goal.

Still, you want to do everything possible to put yourself in a position to succeed. And in a copycat league, here’s five valuable pointers the Jets can take away from this year’s playoffs.

1) BUILD YOUR BLEEPIN’ BLUE LINE:

Chris O’Meara / The Associated Press files A clear No. 1 defenceman like Victor Hedman would be nice.

Just like the Habs and Bolts, the Jets have a world-class goaltender. I’ll put Connor Hellebuyck up with the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carey Price any day of the week.

Unlike those two teams, Winnipeg’s defence core is very much a work-in-progress. For starters, there’s no clear No. 1 such as a Victor Hedman or Shea Weber. There used to be, but he’s now spending his days hunting and fishing and enjoying retirement in Minnesota.

Tampa and Montreal are hardly one-trick ponies, with the likes of Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh, David Savard, Jeff Petry, Joel Edmundson and Ben Chiarot. No offence to the likes of pending unrestricted free agents Tucker Poolman and Derek Forbort, but every one of those skaters would look real nice in Winnipeg’s top four.

The Jets hope they have some internal solutions on the horizon with the likes of Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg, plus the emerging Logan Stanley (provided he isn’t lost to Seattle in the expansion draft later this month). But there’s no question adding to the back-end should be general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s top priority this summer.

Whether it’s free agency or a big trade, the current key three of Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and Dylan DeMelo need some big-time help around them in the form of size and skill.

 

2) BE A FOUR-LINE TEAM:

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files The line of Trevor Lewis, Mathieu Perreault and Nate Thompson was quite efficient at times.

This series arguably involves the NHL’s two best fourth lines.

On the Montreal side you have Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Joel Armia. On the Tampa side, you have Tyler Johnson, Patrick Maroon and Ross Colton, at least when everybody is healthy. (Johnson played Game 2 and 3 up on the second line for the injured Alex Killorn, while Mathieu Joseph came into the lineup with Maroon and Colton).

Both coaches trust them enough to roll them out regularly, regardless of the situation, which allows your high-end forwards to be at their most effective.

The Jets actually took a solid step in this direction this past season, and the “Dirty 30’s” line of Mathieu Perreault, Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis was quite efficient at times, even if you’d have liked a bit more offence from that trio. All three are pending UFA’s, so an overhaul is coming.

Don’t overlook the importance of this group. Going the distance as a three-line team is pretty much impossible, even when you have a top nine as impressive as Winnipeg’s.

 

3) PUT A PRIORITY ON PUCK POSESSION:

Todd Korol / The Canadian Press files The Jets seem to put way too much pressure on goalie Connor Hellebuyck to save the day.

They may be opening plenty of eyes with their improbable playoff run, but the underlying numbers would tell you Montreal deserves to be here. They finished second in the NHL during the regular-season in the Corsi category, trailing only powerhouse Colorado.

In layman’s terms, that would suggest they actually underachieved — thanks in no small part to a brutal scheduling crunch caused by a mid-season COVID outbreak. Puck-moving blue-liners, plenty of offensive skill up front and a system that taps into these strengths are all keys.

Tampa is no slouch in this department either, finishing ninth-overall. (They were sixth last year when they won the Cup).

The Jets, who have never been analytics darlings due to a style-of-play that seems to put way too much pressure on Hellebuyck to save the day, were 21st. Which was actually a step up from last year, but still not close to good enough. This is very much on Cheveldayoff, and coach Paul Maurice and his staff, to find a way to fix. And fast.

 

4) SIGN COREY PERRY:

Gerry Broome / The Associated Press files Corey Perry, the future Hall of Famer (and pending UFA this summer), is playing in his second straight Cup Final.

I kid. Sort of. Although it’s notable the future Hall of Famer (and pending UFA this summer) is playing in his second straight Cup final after making it to the dance with Dallas last year.

But this speaks to a bigger issue — experience matters, especially when the spotlight gets brightest.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin added the likes of Perry, Staal, Edmundson, Tyler Toffoli, Josh Anderson and backup goalie Jake Allen to the mix this season. Tampa made its biggest additions last year, prior to winning the Cup in the Edmonton bubble, with players such as Maroon, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Savard joined the party at this year’s trade deadline.

Drafting and developing is great, but you also need to complement your existing core with the proper pieces. And both these clubs have done that in spades.

Once again, the floor is yours, Mr. Cheveldayoff.

 

5) IF ALL ELSE FAILS, FIND A WAY TO LEGALLY CIRCUMVENT THE SALARY CAP:

Gerry Broome / The Associated Press Nikita Kucherov spent the entire 56-game campaign on long-term injured reserve.

Yes, this is a direct shot at the Lightning, who are currently playing with a roster that would be nowhere close to cap-compliant during the regular-season.

Nikita Kucherov spending the entire 56-game campaign on long-term injured reserve, then being perfectly healthy for puck drop during the playoffs when money is no longer an object, was either a stroke of pure luck, or pure genius, depending on your perspective. Steven Stamkos also taking a stint on LTIR further helped the cause.

For what it’s worth, the NHL has found nothing nefarious with what Tampa did, although you wonder if change is eventually coming to the collective bargaining agreement in which the salary-cap ceiling, currently at $81.5 million, would continue into the playoffs.

Hey, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, right?

The Jets have spent to the cap ceiling in recent years and will likely continue to do so. But it’s become a delicate juggling act, one that has seen them bid farewell to several key players — including Chiarot — in the past. That’s where getting contributions from players still on entry-level deals, or value contracts, is critical.

Now, back to the Stanley Cup final. Or the Masked Singer. Whatever floats your boat.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Phelan Ebenhack / The Associated Press Ben Chiarot, who once patrolled the blue line for the Winnipeg Jets, is now playing in the Stanley Cup Final with the Montreal Canadiens.
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.

History

Updated on Friday, July 2, 2021 9:01 PM CDT: fixes typo

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