It’s time for Jets to flip the switch

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/02/2019 (1267 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Lyons: Hello there, how’s it going? The last time we chatted like this, you were on a Caribbean island of some sort; you’re home now in balmy Manitoba — how’s that going?

Was the month away long enough? I imagine being away for a few months — or years lol — is I was living the life of retirement.

Same old here — gorgeous blue skies and freezing temperatures. So, half like Nevis right?

What’s not the same is the play of the local NHL team. Yikes! They’ve lost twice in the last 10 days to the worst team in the league (Ottawa) and once to a team that broke a seven-game losing streak (Colorado). Patrik Laine hasn’t scored since — well maybe since you went to Nevis and came back — and despite still leading the Central Division standings, this team looks terrible right now. I’m gonna guess you have a thought or two?

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Winnipeg Jets’ Patrik Laine played 17 shifts, for 16:22 minutes of ice time Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. That was fourth among all forwards.

Paul Wiecek: You know, as weird as it sounds, I can honestly say I was looking forward to coming home after a month in the Caribbean. I actually enjoy the winter — and I do my best to spend a lot of time outdoors doing just that. What kills you with these Manitoba winters isn’t the ridiculously frigid temperatures, it’s the six months that they last. And so if you can break it up with a trip south, I find it restorative and the rest of the winter suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.

Having said that, I’m as ready for spring as the next guy. I’d love to trade in the cross-country skis for a fishing pole any day now.

I’m not as alarmed about the Jets play as so many seem to be. To me, they look like a team that basically clinched a playoff spot on New Year’s Day and set things to cruise control. If this was April, I’d be alarmed. But it’s the dog days of February in the middle of a very long season and I’m not sure this will be anything more than a blip come playoff time.

But make no mistake — these Jets are the picture of complacency right now and if you are what your record says you are, a record of 2-3-2 over the last seven games says these Jets aren’t much a club at the moment. Back-to-back losses to the worst team in the league on consecutive Saturdays tells you all you need to know and I think Paul Maurice summed things up quite nicely the other day: “There wouldn’t be a part of our game we’re comfortable with right now.”

For me, that begins with a power play that is on an 0-19 run right now and which looks nothing like the unstoppable juggernaut that was firing at a 30 percent clip earlier in the season and carried the Jets many nights. I think the rest of the league has gotten wise to Blake Wheeler setting up in his office along the sideboards and feathering seam passes all night long. That worked great while it lasted, but it’s time for a re-think on the whole powerplay approach I think.

And it’s not just a failure to put the puck in the other team’s net that’s a problem. These guys have given up 26 goals in seven games — and 35 shots or more in six of those seven. That’s not winning hockey at any time of the year — and that’s a first-round knockout if the Jets are still that porous defensively in two months time.

But like I said, I just don’t see that happening. This really looks to me like a meaningless lull for a team that’s going to ultimately judged by how they’re playing this spring, not this February.

Steve: I recall the Oilers in the 80s falling into complacency during the regular season and then flipping a switch once the playoffs start and winning another Cup. However, I’d argue this team does not yet have the back class of the Oilers and would be treading dangerously if they think they can just turn it on come April. They seem to think they can out-talent teams — that doesn’t work against lousy teams like the Avs and Sens, never mind the Sharks, Flames and Preds of the world. Sorry, I’m not as sold on them as some who think their talent will come to the top.

I asked Andrew Berkshire this morning to look into the power play funk — curious to see what the data on that tells us.

The big question facing GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is, do you mortgage some of your future and gamble on this group by adding big-names like Mark Stone or Matt Duchesne at the trade deadline. If I’m the GM, I’m not dealing away valuable assets if I don’t think the present group can win it all.

Ottawa Senators right wing Mark Stone (61) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Paul: I don’t think there’s any question this team ‘can win it all.’ They’re deep enough, fast enough, talented enough and they already demonstrated last spring that they’re good enough to make a deep playoff run. I think Chevy — and owner Mark Chipman, who almost certainly has a voice in any trade talks — would kick themselves forever if they didn’t do everything possible to push this team over the top this season.

When you look at all the monster contracts this Jets team has to dish out at the end of this season — Jacob Trouba, Kyle Connor, Laine (although his number is falling along with his goal production) etc — this might be the last season the Jets can afford a team this talented and still stay under the cap. This is a very rare moment in time, one we might not see repeated in these parts for a long time to come. I think the Jets would be foolish to do anything but go all-in on a guy like Duchesne or Stone.

The things I’ve been reading suggest Ottawa’s ask for one of those guys is the Jets first rounder this year and a top prospect like Sami Niku. I couldn’t care less about giving away what will be a very late first round draft pick, but giving up Niku too would be a stiff price to pay for a rental. But what’s the alternative? Let Duchesne go instead to a conference rival like Vegas or, God forbid, Nashville? If that happens, the Jets not only didn’t improve their team at the deadline, they actually got worse because their playoff rivals got better.

The Jets braintrust did an amazing job for a long time at stockpiling young talent other teams overlooked on the draft board. It’s now time to dig into that cupboard and start spending some of that young talent, up to and including Niku if that’s what it takes.

The future is now.

Steve: I definitely agree with that logic. I always like to use baseball as an example and while some people criticized Alex Anthopolous for dealing away a slew of prospects for a rental in David Price and the inflated salary of Troy Tulowitzki, he would have been crazy not to take the shot when it presented itself. It didn’t exactly work out for the Jays losing in the ALCS two years in a row; losing Price to the Red Sox in free agency; and now paying him to play for the Yankees this season — but i’d never question a GM’s gumption to go all-in. Chevy is not known as the river boat gambler type so I wonder if he’s gonna hedge his bet?

Just got an email from Mike McIntyre — Laine spoke to the media for the first time in two weeks. Mike wasn’t impressed: ‘That was mostly terrible. PR people cut off questions after two minutes. Got a bit from him but nothing earth shattering.’whription of Laine’s game in 2019. He’s been terrible and frankly I do not see a light at the end of this tunnel. I’ve always questioned his foot speed and fitness. He needs to put down the gaming console and get to the gym or something.

Paul: Name me another major professional league in which reporters would be barred for two weeks from asking questions of one of the league’s top stars, lest we hurt his fragile feelings? Only the NHL would be this Mickey Mouse — and only a team like the Jets, which has gotten away with routinely violating the league media policy ever since they returned in 2011, would even attempt it.

I’m not sure what to tell you about Laine. I’m on the record in this space that these slumps he goes through — and the occasional defensive lapse — are no big deal as long as in the long run, he’s pumping 40 goals a season. But that was before Laine went into a 14-game drought. I’m starting to wonder whether he’ll ever score again. All I know for sure is that if he doesn’t, it won’t be the media’s fault.

On the plus side, can I just point out that the last time we talked in this space, I told you Patriots would beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, the Rams would beat the Saints in the NFC Championship and then Tom Brady would win the Super Bowl over the Rams. Wish I’d bet that triactor.

Steve: Typical punter. Always talking about the triactor he didn’t bet! Let’s be sure to make a trip to the Downs this summer. When we’re both sitting in our rocking chairs looking back on things, one thing we’ll be sure to agree on is, you will find more genuine people in that sport than any other.

New England Patriots’ Jason McCourty (30) breaks up a pass intended for Los Angeles Rams’ Brandin Cooks (12) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

A lot of people hated this year’s Super Bowl, calling it boring. I’ve watched some bad ones over the years, but this was not one of them. I found it absolutely fascinating to watch the defensive genius of Bill Belichick. If that was a painting, it would be hanging in the Grand Hall of the Rijksmuseum. I’m not a big fan of the Patriots boss man, but my goodness, what he schemed up to beat the Rams was a masterpiece for the ages.

And how about Tony Romo? I hadn’t watched him much — only heard he was doing a great job. This guy takes doing color commentary to a new level of insight and thoughtful explanation.

Oh, and I loved the halftime show! Watched it twice in fact. Maroon 5’s rendition of She Will Be Loved was spectacular.

Paul: We have lots to agree on here.

The most enjoyable assignment I had in 30 years of newspapers were the years I spent covering the Downs. A day spent around horses is a day well spent and the people down there — from the jockeys to the trainers to the grooms to the folks who actually keep the lights on — are some of the most decent people I’ve ever covered. The Downs is a gem and we’re lucky to have it, especially in an age when tracks are closing all over North America.

And yes, finally, a voice of reason on the Super Bowl. All I read afterward was how it was the worst Super Bowl ever, which is ridiculous. It was a close, hard fought game right until the end, with all kinds of history dripping off of it as Brady won his sixth ring. I will never understand why people think a 45-44 game where the offences dominate is a classic, but a 10–9 game where the defences dominate is a dud.

I hate the Patriots but I loved watching that game. We will agree to disagree about Maroon 5. But I will leave you this thought: How come Janet Jackson exposing one nipple at the Super Bowl was a scandal, but Adam Levine exposing both of his nipples — and some really tacky body art — was totally fine?

Free the nipple.

Steve: I happen to know at least two female friends who loved a bare-chested Adam Levine at half time… *shrugs*

Since we’re on the subject of football, Kyle Walters has won the free agency game a couple of times in recent years but the Bombers are still without a Grey Cup victory. Maybe losing it this year will work out instead?

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Winnipeg Blue Bombers General Manager Kyle Walters in the Press Room at Investors Group Field.

I’m never one to suggest you build a team through free agency, but you don’t want to lose a team because of it either — not retaining offensive lineman Sukh Chungh; linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox and safety Taylor Loffler is a bit of a whiff by the team. Snagging Willie Jefferson is a good thing I guess, but I didn’t know they needed help on the defensive line. They needed a receiver and didn’t get one.

You and I have debated the competence of Walters over the years — I’ve not been a big fan and his performance this off-season has done nothing to change my mind.

Paul Wiecek: Edmonton Eskimos GM Brock Sunderland, who is generally considered to have won free agency this month despite losing starting QB Mike Reilly, said afterward that he’d rather win a Grey Cup than free agency. And as you point out, those two things are not necessarily the same thing.

A few things in defense of Walters. For starters, he’d already locked down more of his returning team before free agency than anyone else, so you had to figure he was going to be quieter than previous years. And for another, Walters already had a great team last year and was focused only on keeping as much of it together as possible, unlike, say, Sunderland, who piloted a sad sack outfit in Edmonton last season that was the only West Division team to miss the playoffs in a year in which they hosted the Grey Cup. So yeah, of course Sunderland had more work to do in free agency.

And finally, talk to me this summer when all these teams that now have over $700,000 tied up in just their starting quarterbacks — the situation in both Calgary and B.C. — or have lavished quarter-million dollar plus salaries on receivers — the situation in Edmonton and Toronto — find themselves with no depth at other positions because they’re up against the salary cap.

Walters is going to have a lot more room to manouevre this season than all these other GMs who went on a spending spree the last couple weeks.

Having said all that, the losses of Santos-Knox, Chung and, for me, especially Loffler will sting. On the plus side, you don’t need a secondary or, really, even linebackers, if your front-four is in the opponent’s backfield on every play, which just might happen with Jefferson now in town and what looks like the most dominating front-four I can recall in this city.

Steve Lyons: I’m not against trying to win a title with a ferocious front seven — it’s been done before; even here. I just think they seriously need a receiver or two to stretch the field a bit if they’re going to continue to try and rely in Andrew Harris and the short passing game.

So, how was this island paradise of Nevis? I told you I’m heading to Jordan in March right? Gonna trek in the desert and camp with the Bedouins.

Paul: One of my greatest regrets is the time I spent a week in Jordan — between visits to Iraq — on assignment for this paper, but didn’t go see the ancient city of Petra. I spent the time holed up in my room instead, writing about the crushing effects sanctions on Saddam Hussein were having on the people of Iraq.

It was both the right decision and wrong decision. Not going to Petra, I mean. Western sanctions on Iraq were an unmitigated disaster, one which we’re still living with the consequences of, inside and outside Iraq, today. But I digress.

A month in Nevis was just about right. The entire place is 35 square miles and I think I saw every inch of it in that time.

Steve: My itinerary includes overnight camping in Little Petra and then the next morning hiking into Petra via a spectacular but little-known Bedouin trail through the mountains.

FILE – In this Oct. 5, 2018, file photo, then-Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manny Machado celebrates his two-run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the first inning of Game 2 of a baseball National League Division Series, in Los Angeles. A person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press that infielder Manny Machado has agreed to a $300 million, 10-year deal with the rebuilding San Diego Padres, the biggest contract ever for a free agent. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, because the agreement was subject to a successful physical and had not been announced. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Just read that Manny Machado signed a 10-year deal with the Padres for $300 million today. Bryce Harper still doesn’t have a team — I thought it was a given he was going to sign with the Yankees when he became a free agent. Guess getting Giancarlo Stanton changed those plans. How is your team looking this season?

Paul: Bryce Harper wanted $400 million, which is absurd for a guy whose value has plummeted as the holes in his game — and there’s plenty — have gotten exposed in this age of analytics.

I still don’t put a whole lot of stock in hockey analytics, mostly because the data it’s based on is only as reliable as the guy inputting it and hockey moves so fast that a lot of this stuff that’s sold as science is based on inherently unreliable data. Until the entire game is wired — pucks, sticks and players — color me skeptical.

But baseball was built for analytics and what’s emerged in the last couple years is that paying guys tens of millions of dollars a season for wins and ERA (in the case of pitchers) or homers and hits and RBI’s (in the case of fielders) is a fool’s errand. Everyone is accusing the owners of collusion in trying to tamp down free agency. I just think the owners finally got smart.

The Yankees, it will not surprise you to learn, still do not have the kind of starting pitching necessary to win a World Series. I get that the value of starting pitching has declined as managers use all these specialty relievers and even “openers,” but I’m still a big believer that come playoff time, it’s the team that has a starter who can win three games in a seven-game series that takes home the hardware.

And that won’t be the Yankees. Again.

How about your Blue Jays? Will having Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to watch make up for what promises to be a dreadful season?

Steve: I think sometimes hope for the future is more entertaining to watch than disappointment with the present — I’ll likely enjoy watching the Jays this year more than you will enjoy watching the Yankees haha

Gotta jet pal.. Final thought from me on the Jets…

You mentioned earlier in this convo you thought the Jets are fast enough to win the Cup. I’m skeptical. It was a loss to the Habs a couple of weeks ago that, to me, exposed this team’s biggest weakness: while they may be fast when they get going, I don’t think they’re quick enough to win it all. The Canadiens were way quicker than the Jets and manhandled them; reminding me of how the ‘quick’ Golden Knights did the same thing in the Western Conference final last year.

They’ve got some quick players to be sure — Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev, Jack Roslovic come to mind — but I think they’ve got too many slow-footed ones — Tyler Myers; Adam Lowry; Bryan Little; Dustin Byfuglien; and of course Laine. I don’t think they are the ‘quick and fast’ team everybody thinks they are. Guess we’ll see.

Paul: That loss to the Habs was easily the worst game the Jets played all season. I’d caution against drawing much in the way of conclusions out of that stinker.

But yeah, maybe you’re right. I still can’t believe they lost to Vegas in the Conference Final last year. Speed kills.

 

 

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