Has Chevy mis-managed Jets’ window to win Cup?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/07/2019 (1246 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Hello there. How are you doing? I know you’re having a dream summer, finally spending the whole season at the lake — how’s that going?

I imagine every once in awhile you’re following what’s going on in the real world because you’re like that.

So…

The Jets lost another roster player this morning when Ben Chiarot signed with the Canadiens.

To recap, that’s him and Trouba and Tyler Myers gone from the blue line and Brandon Tanev from up front. They got somebody back in the Trouba deal from the Rangers — whatever — but nada for the rest and signed diddly in free agency. Is this starting to look like trouble to you or are these parts all replaceable and just the cost of doing business in the salary cap era?

I’m starting to wonder if that trip to the conference final two seasons ago is as close as this team is going to get and the window for winning a Cup is shutting quickly.

Perhaps there’s still a deal in the works — gotta think shopping out one of those flashy forwards for a decent defenceman would be a good idea. Hello Nik Ehlers.

 

 

Winnipeg Jets left wing Nikolaj Ehlers (27) (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

 

Paul Wiecek: Yeah, the view from the office these days is a little nicer than it used to be.

And my office is a whole lot less stressful than Chevy’s at the moment.

Chevy is in many ways a victim of his own success. He’s presided over the best draft operation in the NHL for years. The upside to that is you get a lot of highly talented young players playing for you at reduced rates early on. The downside is sooner or later they’ve got to get paid and the piper has just arrived at the front door of Bell MTS Place.

The most alarming thing to me about what’s gone on these last few weeks is that at the same time the Jets have had this exodus of talent headed out the door, the rest of their division rivals have gotten a whole lot better. Mike McIntyre did a good piece this week running down how Dallas, Nashville, Colorado, Minnesota and Chicago all got better this summer, while St. Louis is still celebrating that Stanley Cup.

And the Jets? Theyv’e signed a couple Europeans you’ve never heard of and some guy named Neal Pionk, who may or may not be any better than he’s been to this point, which is to say a marginal third pairing defenceman.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig) Neal Pionk is a young, right-shot defenceman that is an RFA this summer.

And that’s on a Jets team that wasn’t good enough to begin with, judging by their hasty first round exit from this year’s playoffs. Put it all together and all the lipstick in the world isn’t going to brighten this pig.

What’s interesting to me is you could see this coming from a long way out and still Chevy has gotten caught with his pants around his ankles. I remember getting crucified by fans after Vegas eliminated the Jets in that conference final last year and I wrote a column that Winnipeg might have just blown their last best chance at the Cup. Everyone at the time was telling me how this was a dynasty built for years to come, but what everyone missed was it just doesn’t work like that in the salary cap era.

You seize your opportunity when it arrives — hello, St. Louis Blues — or you spend the ensuing years wondering what might have been. And that’s a painful place to find yourself, especially in a city with a winter as long and as cold as Winnipeg’s.

Steve Lyons: It took the Blues 51 years to finally win a Cup — they have more than a couple what could have beens in that time.

I’ve been watching Kyle Dubas manage his cap over the last couple of weeks, getting rid of some players but also getting a few good ones back to ensure he has enough money to sign Mitch Marner. It also seems to me Chevy has gotten caught off guard here. But I guess he also kind of rolled the dice and took a shot.

I personally, would not have been a buyer at last year’s trade deadline. The team was floundering and in no way looked poised to make a run at the Cup. Dealing off Myers and Tanev at that time and not giving up anything for Kevin Hayes (*roll eyes*) would have been my play at the table.

Vancouver Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers stands to leave after a news conference after signing a five-year contract with the NHL hockey team, in Vancouver, on Monday July 1, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

So, now what? Keep chasing a winning hand or re-shuffle the deck a bit?

Paul Wiecek: I’m not sure trading for Hayes at the deadline added up to much in the end, especially since Chevy got back the first round pick he sent to the Rangers in the Trouba deal.

And Chevy would have been crucified by Jets Nation if he’d been a seller at the trade deadline, although I don’t disagree with your premise that it was already clear at that time that this was not a Jets team that was going to challenge in the playoffs for any title other than ‘first-out.’

But the larger problem in my view is the untradeable contracts Chevy has signed in recent years. That six-year deal for Bryan Little at $5.3 million a year is easily the dumbest thing Chevy has ever done and it is going to kill this Jets team for years to come. And I’m proud to say both you and I went on record saying so at the time Chevy signed that crazy deal.

Bryan Little is starting as the Jets' second-line centreman with Patrik Laine on his right side. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files

Ditto Dmitry Kulikov at $4.3 million a year for three years. The guy was damaged goods (bad back) when Chevy acquired him from Buffalo and even when he’s been healthy as a Jet, he’s shown night after night that he’s a seventh defenceman on most NHL teams.

Mathieu Perreault at $4.1 million a year for yet another two seasons is so laughable it isn’t even worth talking about.

Put it all together and those three clowns are going to rake in $13.7 million of precious salary cap space this coming season. That’s the Jets biggest problem and I don’t see any real way of getting out from under it.

So what now? I’d trade Ehlers for a serviceable defenceman that could play with Morrissey, although I’m not convinced that deal is on the table. Ehlers play last season reminded me of a guy I used to work with at Inland Cement — he’d walk around all day carrying a shovel so he’d look busy, but he never actually did anything.

And then I’d do exactly what Chevy is doing — hoping and praying that guys like Niku, Poolman, Veslalainen, Roslovic and Appleton all play the best hockey of their young careers this coming season and bail the Jets out of this mess.

It’s not much, but it’s what the Jets got at this point.

Steve Lyons: Say What?!, I agree with everything you just said!

Ok, maybe I like Kulikov just a tad more than you do at No. 6 haha

They do have more young talent coming up the pipe, which like you say is going to determine their fate. I think that’s a common recipe for success in the NHL these days — you need two or three players on entry level contracts to play as either Top 6 forwards or Top 4 defenceman. The Jets have had those in Patrick Laine; Kyle Connor and Josh Morrissey. Now, they will need some new blood to fill those holes as those players move into bridge deals or long-term contracts.

JEFF ROBERSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Could another NHL club try to take advantage of Winnipeg’s financial woes and try to sign either Patrik or Kyle Connor?

I guess if all that happens, this team still has a shot to take another deep playoff run.

Presuming Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler; Dustin Byfuglien; Josh Morrissey and Connor Hellebuyck stay healthy and solid seasons.

Lots of question marks, but i guess that’s the case everywhere.

So, we haven’t chatted since the big event of the spring. Tell me what you thought of the Raptors winning the NBA title. I’ve always been a bigger hoops fan than you — even while on vacation, I watched every game. Great drama and while I get the Raptors are from Toronto, I really felt it was a cool moment in the history of Canadian sports.

 

 

Guard Kyle Lowry holds the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy up for the fans during the 2019 Toronto Raptors Championship parade in Toronto last month. (Frank Gunn / Canadian Press files)

 

Paul Wiecek: I’ve long believed any sport in which you score as a team in better than one-half your attempts is a dumb sport. And I’ve long believed the NBA will never be much more than a niche sport in Canada, somewhere just above tennis and well below curling in terms of television viewership numbers.

And I think both of those things will remain true even with this Raptors title.

Personally, I think raising the height of the nets to 15 feet would do a lot more for the sport in Canada — and everywhere else — than anything the Raptors did this spring.

And this whole idea that suddenly there is going to be a generation of Canadian kids playing basketball because of Kawhi Leonard’s four-bouncer against the 76ers? Stop it, you’re killing me.

The last time I heard something that dumb was in 1993 when the gullible were telling the even more gullible that those back-to-back Blue Jays World Series titles were a game-changer for Canada that was going to see every kid in the country playing baseball and this country adopting baseball as our second sport.

Not only did nothing of the sort materialize, baseball quickly went back to exactly what it had always been in this country once the Jays got crappy again — which is exactly what’s going to happen to basketball in this country if the Raptors can’t re-sign Leonard.

But was it fun while it lasted? Hell, yeah. I watched every game.

Steve Lyons: I’m not sure the baseball-basketball comparison is going to be accurate — the numbers show differently.

But, credit shouldn’t go to the Raptors necessarily. Our increasingly diverse population has increased the number of young people playing basketball more than anything. It’s an increasingly more popular game internationally than baseball.

Did you catch any of Masai Ujiri’s season-ending press conference? The Raps top boss was over the top in his hyperbole, but it was great theatre. The Globe and Mail’s Cathal Kelly wrote a terrific column about it saying it reached Churchillian heights. Ujiri envisions the Raps as one of the world’s great franchises — the Man United of hoops. Some political party should reel this guy in — I think he’d get a lot of votes running for office some day.

The Kawhi Leonard drama reached dizzying heights on Wednesday as reports of Leonard flying to Toronto turned into frantic live news coverage tracking his every move.

I kinda like the drama actually.

Paul Wiecek: I’m not sure what numbers you’re talking about because the numbers I’ve seen — TV ratings — show that next to nobody was watching basketball in this country prior to this year. But time will tell, I suppose.

I lost a lot of respect for Ujiri the moment he hit that cop after the Raptors won.

I’ve been up close in a lot of those celebration moments and there’s always two things about them: 1) they’re total chaos; but 2) there’s an order to the chaos.

And the reason there’s an order is because there are always very strict rules about who gets on the field of play for the celebration. You always need a second level of accreditation to get on the field of play. Your regular credential isn’t good enough. Never. Sometimes you need a badge that you can pin on. Sometimes you need a ribbon. In this case, I understand there was some kind of gold arm band that people needed to get on the court.

Ujiri didn’t have his arm band — which is just dumb, because the Raptors would have been issued them. And so instead of taking a breath and sorting through the situation with that cop in Oakland, he hit him. That’s completely unacceptable and if there’s anything to the idea that everyone should be treated equally under the law, Ujiri should have been arrested and charged on the spot.

Steve: I was referring to participation numbers. Basketball Manitoba’s Adam Wedlake told McIntyre that the number of local participants outside of those playing in school has gone from a few hundred to more than 12,000 since Toronto joined the NBA in 1985.

Allegedly hit him.

How are things at the lake?

I went to Banff for a week in June — what a jewel we have there. I just love that place. Did some great biking — did I tell you I got a new bike? Been commuting to work a couple of days a week on it as well as exploring the city. There’s some great places to bike in town.

I’ll have a travel story on the Banff trip later this month. They’ve got this amazing new transit initiative that gets you to all the hot spots by super comfy coaches.

Steve will have a travel story on his Banff trip later this month. (Steve Lyons / Winnipeg Free Press)

Paul Wiecek: Everyone thinks of Banff in the winter time because of the skiing, but it’s just as spectacular in the summer. I look forward to reading your piece.

Things at the lake are fantastic. This property has been in my family since the year before I was born and my whole life I’ve wanted to spend a whole summer out here. It took retirement but it’s finally happening, more or less, and it’s everything I hoped it would be.

The view from Paul Wiecek's "office". (Supplied photo)

But man do we need some rain. Water levels out here in northwestern Ontario are at the lowest levels I’ve ever seen and it’s not much better back home in Gimli. Things were bad last year too but the hope was all that snow we had over the winter would refill the basins. Instead, it’s actually gotten worse and all this heat lately isn’t helping.

It’s just like the Jets — I’m wondering how low can we go?

Steve Lyons: Gotta get back to work soon — and I’m sure your hammock is calling you for your afternoon nap — but we should mention that other team in town. The Bombers are off to a 2-0 start and play the 2-0 Redblacks Friday night. The local CFL team has had some decent rosters on paper the last few season, but I’m gonna suggest none has been as loaded as this one.

And, I’m gonna bow to your previous proclamations — Kyle Walters has given Mike O’Shea all the tools he could possible require to end this ridiculous Grey Cup drought. I hope he and his lieutenants Paul Lapolice and Richie Hall realize this and don’t get in the darn way too much.

 

 

Lucky Whitehead celebrates his touchdown against the Edmonton Eskimos Thursday. (John Woods / Canadian Press files)

 

Paul: Watching that Bombers win over Edmonton the other week, I was remembering how this time last year I wrote that the 2018 Bombers were the most talented Bombers team I could remember in a long time.

Well, the Bombers have just gotten better since then — a lot better — and I don’t think they’ve yet even begun to show what they’re capable of.

Plus — and this is just as big — the Bombers are peaking at the same time as the rest of the West Division is showing cracks. Mike Reilly is still winless in BC. Calgary should be 0-2, but for a miracle comeback against BC. The Bombers beat Edmonton last week despite making every possible effort to lose that game, which tells you something. And Saskatchewan still has a revolving door of quarterbacks.

Put it all together and the excuses have finally, officially and forever run out for Mike O’Shea and the rest of his coaching staff to finally end the Grey Cup drought.

Steve Lyons: I think I’ve predicted they’re going to win the Cup a couple of times over the last three years, so what the heck — this is the year they finally do it. Maybe.

Great chatting bud.. catch up again next month.

Paul Wiecek: It’s always my pleasure. Don’t work too hard.

steve.lyons@freepress.mb.ca

 

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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