Weak 4th line will be costly

Jets need significant upgrade to compete in deep Western Conference


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What the Winnipeg Jets have been doing with three lines isn't sustainable, so the lack of a trustworthy and effective fourth line must be on GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's radar.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2014 (3049 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What the Winnipeg Jets have been doing with three lines isn’t sustainable, so the lack of a trustworthy and effective fourth line must be on GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s radar.

Against strong competition that can roll four lines, the three-line Jets are vulnerable. This will only get worse as the season moves on and games become more fiercely contested.

Head coach Paul Maurice used his fourth line for less than three minutes Thursday night other than Jim Slater picking up some extra time on the penalty kill. When the Detroit Red Wings, who had their fourth line on the ice for close to 13 minutes in the game, surged past the Jets in the third period it was quite evident the Jets were tired.

A weakness in the Jets roster was exposed by Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and will be picked up on eventually by other teams with similar depth. Match the Jets’ work ethic and spread the burden over 12 forwards rather the nine Winnipeg can use. In the end, fresh legs will most often win out.

The Western Conference is all about depth and balance, which at this point the Jets are lacking.

Following the game, Maurice lamented his team had played 15 games in 28 days and didn’t have their legs. The busy schedule is compounded by the fact the coach consistently relies on just nine forwards.

The Jets find themselves clinging to a wild-card playoff berth heading into Friday night’s action in the ºber-competitive West. The games will only get harder, and it stands to reason playing an entire 82-game NHL season shorthanded isn’t a recipe for success.

Maurice has asked his team to play a grinding, physical style and to compete on every shift. They’ve responded and the results to date have been pleasant, if not a touch surprising. But it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to keep it up.

Cheveldayoff has the cap space to try to make a move that will improve his team today, but not at the expense of his future. Winnipeg needs depth up front and players Maurice can more consistently use. Perhaps the Jets can dip into the roster in St. John’s, but if not, Cheveldayoff could turn to the trade market.

The Jets could take on salary from a team butting up near the cap and give less than market value for the player they get in return. There will be discount deals this season for teams capable of using cap space as a weapon.

The question for Cheveldayoff, who at the current rate will spend close to $61 million of his available $69 million in salary cap space, is this: Does he have the actual cash?

The Jets exact budget for this season is unknown, but based on what the organization has said about its spending plan, it likely falls somewhere in between $60 million and $64 million, which is the third quartile of the salary cap this season.

So Cheveldayoff may or may not have as much as $3 million to spend on added salary if he could swing a deal to improve his team.

Jets owner Mark Chipman has previously stated his team would spend in the third quartile of the NHL mandated salary range unless there was a distinct and obvious need to spend more.

Chipman has said the team will free up money to contend when they arrive at that time and place.

Cheveldayoff has a budget that can only be exceeded in cases deemed appropriate by the organization.

Extra round

Spending more to get into the playoffs wouldn’t appear to be part of the plan. Increasing the budget to win an extra round once in the playoffs is more to Chipman’s thinking.

It’s prudent, and a financial reality for a franchise in the NHL’s smallest marketplace.

Chipman can’t worry about the Jets on a season-by-season basis. He needs to focus big picture and ensure the franchise’s long-term viability. Sure, the Jets can offset increased payroll expenditures by selling tickets for playoff games, but spending money that isn’t guaranteed isn’t the kind of business practice that keeps a franchise safe and entrenched in a market such as Winnipeg.

The counter to this way of thinking, however, lies in the penny-wise and pound foolish adage.

It takes an investment in personnel to win in the NHL. Reaching the post-season is a worthy goal in the development of a young team.

Jets’ brass must decide if now is a critical point in the franchise’s development and whether they should increase their investment.

Keep in mind, adding salary today is one thing, but it doesn’t magically disappear from the books at season’s end unless Cheveldayoff can trade only for players with no term on their contracts. A commitment today most often includes a commitment for tomorrow.

Cheveldayoff’s draft, develop and retain model is aimed at setting the Jets up for a long and healthy run of consistent playoff appearances when it reaches critical mass.

The Jets have come a long way in terms of organizational depth under Cheveldayoff’s watch, and Winnipeg hockey fans are beginning to see the growth of young players and maturation of their core. The future looks bright, but when it will arrive remains an unknown.

Left as they are, this version of the Jets making the post-season remains a long shot. They’re too thin and games such as Thursday’s loss to Detroit could very well become the norm if help isn’t sought.

Making trades is one thing and hard enough when a GM has the cash to take on salary. Challenging Cheveldayoff to markedly improve the Jets in a cash-in and cash-out scenario is a tall order.

There’s no guarantee Cheveldayoff can improve the Jets on the trade market. But without the money to be a player he won’t get a seat at the trading table.



Twitter: @garylawless

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