Jets stuck in holding pattern Free agency produces a whole lot of nothing so far

What are the Winnipeg Jets doing? I ask that question in all sincerity, without a trace of sarcasm in my voice. No, really, what are they doing? What is the plan, the vision, not just for this coming season, but beyond?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/07/2022 (210 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What are the Winnipeg Jets doing? I ask that question in all sincerity, without a trace of sarcasm in my voice. No, really, what are they doing? What is the plan, the vision, not just for this coming season, but beyond?

Anyone hoping for some clarity on Wednesday surely came away disappointed.

For most teams around the NHL, it’s quite obvious. You have sad-sack squads such as Chicago and Arizona in a race to the basement, shedding rosters of skill and salary in tank jobs of epic proportions they hope will eventually pay off down the road. You have organizations such as Detroit and Ottawa going the other way on their rebuilds and trying to accelerate the process with shrewd, aggressive signings and trades. And then you have hockey heavyweights such as Colorado and Tampa Bay and Vegas and Carolina revving the engines and powering up for another run.

CP KEITH SRAKOCIC / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Former Columbus Blue Jackets' player Kevin Stenlund (right) signed with the Jets on Wednesday.

They’ve all picked various lanes in the race for the Stanley Cup, with some of them moving a lot faster than others.

None of those descriptions can apply to the Jets, who don’t seem to have a true direction in what was supposed to be an all-important summer. In fact, based on what we heard from general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff following an eerily quiet first day of free agency, it appears the current approach is to try to run it back this coming campaign with a group that clearly wasn’t good enough to get it done last year.

Remind me, what’s the definition of insanity again?

Spinning the tires and being stuck in the murky middle would seem to be a recipe for mediocrity. And yet the only changes to the end-of-year NHL roster so far are the deletion of Paul Stastny, Evgeny Svechnikov, Adam Brooks and Eric Comrie, and the addition of depth forward Kevin Stenlund and backup goaltender David Rittich.

Not exactly a “frenzy” so far, is it? Put it this way: the most interesting and exciting thing to go down at Canada Life Centre on Wednesday was an impromptu floor hockey game on the arena floor involving members of the media. Yeah, we were working hard. Or is that hardly working?

Cheveldayoff spoke of being “comfortable” with the group he currently has, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Armed with a fresh three-year extension after leading the Jets to four playoff appearances in his first 11 years, Cheveldayoff isn’t going anywhere. True North loyalty runs deep. He’s also got a new hand-picked coaching staff in the process of being assembled, one that he appears to believe can get different results out of the (mostly) same roster.

THE CANADIAN PRESS TODD KOROL / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES One-time Calgary Flames goalie David Rittich was signed to a one-year deal by Winnipeg as a back-up goalie.

Call it the Calgary Flames approach. The former Smythe Division rivals were a pretty good-looking team on paper two years ago, only to fall far short of high expectations when they hit the ice for the 56-game COVID season playing in the all-Canadian division. Rather than blow up the roster, the biggest change was bringing veteran Darryl Sutter in to be the new full-time bench boss.

Lo and behold, Calgary was one of the best regular-season clubs in the league last year, finishing second in the Western Conference to Colorado. After downing Dallas in a first-round series that went the distance, they were eliminated by Edmonton in the second round. Still, the dramatic turnaround was duly noted.

I would argue the Flames are likely the exception, not the rule, but that apparently isn’t going to stop the Jets from trying to repeat some recent, albeit rare, history.

“Sometimes you got to be careful about thinking about what you don’t have as opposed to what you have and go from there,” Cheveldayoff told us.

That’s kind of the problem, though. We’ve seen what this team has. And it finished sixth in the Central Division (30 points out of first), 11th in the Western Conference (eight points out of a playoff spot) and 19th in the entire NHL last year. I’m not sure how well that approach is going to play with the typical fan, especially after a year in which the Jets failed to play in front of a single full house at the downtown barn. This was an organization desperately in need of some kind of jolt. Some sign of life.

So far, it’s been crickets and tumbleweeds.

FRANK GUNN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The Jets could have used Blake Wheeler as trade bait.

Rather than clear out salary by trading someone like captain Blake Wheeler or defenceman Brenden Dillon that allowed them to be big shoppers on Wednesday, Winnipeg has opted to stand pat. Same for a blockbuster move involving the likes of centres Mark Scheifele of Pierre-Luc Dubois, who could both walk in unrestricted free agency in two years from now (along with goalie Connor Hellebuyck) and could bring a handsome return that could dramatically change the mix.

Sure, those things could still happen, but two big artificial deadlines — the draft and now free agency — have come and gone without a peep.

Cheveldayoff is clearly hoping a few young players are ready for prime time and can take on bigger roles, mentioning Cole Perfetti, Morgan Barron and David Gustafsson by name on Wednesday. He also implied there’s big future plans for defencemen Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg, even if their path to regular blue-line work would appear to be blocked right now.

Then there’s the wildcard of a new voice behind the bench, and whether Rick Bowness and associate coach Scott Arniel can succeed where both Paul Maurice and Dave Lowry failed. They have their work cut out for them, especially given something Cheveldayoff never touched on: his team was a raging tire fire by the end of last year, with plenty of public griping and finger-pointing from players going on. The locker room was clearly not a very happy place to be.

Other than getting rid of two of the most outgoing, fun-loving players in Comrie and Svechnikov, and a wise old owl in Stastny, how exactly has that been addressed?

Speaking of Stastny, how about the fact the 36-year-old recently did an interview in which he spoke about wanting to sign with a contender, a team he thinks can win. The fact that doesn’t appear to be here in Winnipeg, where he’s twice waived his no-move clause to come, speaks volumes about the current situation.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Cheveldayoff is hoping a few young players such as Cole Perfetti will take on bigger roles next year.

What are the Winnipeg Jets doing? So far, a whole lot of nothing.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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