Finding the silver lining Jets’ underwhelming season hasn’t been all doom and gloom
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2022 (459 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There’s really no sugar-coating it: the Winnipeg Jets season so far has been underwhelming, failing to meet the lofty expectations everyone within the organization — and plenty outside of it — had when the puck dropped last fall.
Time is running out to turn that collective frown upside-down.
But that hardly means all hope is lost and the last few months have been an unmitigated disaster. Far from it. And so, in an attempt to sprinkle some good vibes around here — we all could use a bit more of that in our lives, couldn’t we? — I’ve opted to give Negative Nelly a well-deserved time-out and take a “glass half-full” approach today.
Despite disappointing overall results that have them desperately trying to catch up to the playoff pack with less than two months to go, there are still plenty of encouraging things that have gone down to date. Silver linings, if you will.
Let’s count some of those blessings, shall we?
1) Pierre-Luc Dubois: A year ago, plenty of folks were ready to declare him a big-time bust.
To be fair, Dubois didn’t exactly set the world on fire after joining the Jets following the blockbuster trade with Columbus. A two-week pandemic quarantine, followed shortly after by an injury, made for a miserable first impression around here. There was almost no practice time to get acquainted with his new teammates and systems, and the young man seemed lost in the wilderness.
Well, just look at him now. Dubois is leading by example on, and even off, the ice. He is a force to be reckoned with, his “give a crap” meter always dialed to the max, and he has morphed into the kind of power forward and No. 1 centre the Jets hoped they would acquire. Just 23, his best days are still to come.
The sooner he gets a letter on his sweater, the better. Not to mention a long-term extension that should come this summer. He’s the kind of unique player the other 31 teams in the league wish they had. Now if only the Jets could find a way to clone him.
2) Hello, Cole Perfetti: I was there in Anaheim on opening-night, standing beside his proud parents as he hit the ice at Honda Center for his first big-league game.
Another 17 have followed since, and that number would be higher if he hadn’t got injured a couple weeks ago. Despite looking like he could still pass for a 12-year-old, the baby-faced Perfetti had grown by leaps and bounds and looked every bit like a top six fixture before Seattle defenceman Jamie Oleksiak dealt him an upper-body blow with a big hit.
The fact opportunity came knocking, and the barely 20-year-old took full advantage, bodes well for the future of the franchise. The kid has elite hockey IQ, and once the game slows down a bit more for him, as it will with experience, he’s going to be a full-time force.
A one-two punch up the middle of Dubois and Perfetti sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it? Throw in Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers on the wings, and those are the four forwards you build the future around, in my opinion. They would be my only “untouchables” when it comes to potential trades.
3) Josh Morrissey’s rebound: I’ve documented my personal affinity for the classy 26-year-old defenceman, who suffered an enormous (and very private) loss last year as his father and role model, Tom, was dying of brain cancer.
After a rough on-ice campaign as well, Morrissey has returned to his previous strong form. He’s been rock-solid in his usual top-role pairing and is on pace for career-best offensive numbers, while continuing to evolve into a true leader who is always available to speak with the media, through thick and thin.
It truly couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
4) We got a glimpse into the future: A silver lining to a rash of COVID-19 cases that severely tested the depth of the organization was getting to see a few players who likely would have spent the whole year ripening on the vine with the Manitoba Moose.
Defencemen Dylan Samberg, Johnathan Kovacevic and Declan Chisholm all made their NHL debuts, and it’s safe to say none of them looked out of place in their limited duty so far. All three are now back on the farm, where they are playing big roles and big minutes with a loaded Moose squad that should be considered a Calder Cup contender.
Along with Ville Heinola and Leon Gawanke (who has yet to play with the Jets), there’s no question what was a weakness just a few years ago has now become a strength. It makes you wonder if management might consider moving an established player or two on the blue-line, either at the upcoming trade deadline or more likely this summer, to perhaps address some lineup weaknesses and shake up the mix.
It wasn’t the way they drew it up, but having a better idea of just how deep the prospect pool is might just make that possible.
5) We learned that Paul Maurice certainly wasn’t the only problem: OK, so this might be stretching it to portray as a positive, but it must be said that anyone who thought replacing the veteran bench boss with a fresh voice would cure what ails the club has been proven wrong.
The Jets were 13-10-5 when Maurice announced his surprising departure back on Dec. 17. And they have gone 11-11-4 in the 26 games under interim coach Dave Lowry heading into action Friday night against Dallas. In other words, more of the same mediocrity.
It’s clear the problems run deeper than simply the guy calling the shots, which has now come into focus and should assist True North when it comes to what will hopefully be a thorough audit of where this team is, and where it’s going, during the off-season. That will also include a full-blown coaching search. A rebuild isn’t necessary. A re-tooling may very well be.
There have been a handful of other highlights, from Kyle Connor continuing to show he’s one of the elite scorers in the game and likely flirting with 50 by the time the season wraps, Evgeny Svechnikov being a low-risk gamble that appears to be paying off and backup goalie Eric Comrie silencing some critics with solid, albeit infrequent, play.
No doubt the hockey club hopes the list gets even longer by the end of April.
Which brings me to one final bit of optimism. It’s a tall ask, for sure. Some might even suggest it will take a minor miracle. But there’s still enough runway left here for the Jets, who are suddenly at the healthiest they’ve been in months, to flip the script and go on a run.
Hey, it never hurts to think positively, right?
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.