With 2017 winding down, it’s time to reflect on some of the good and bad things that happened within the Winnipeg Jets organization during the year.
1) It was almost a year ago (Jan. 7) when Buffalo Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe laid rookie Patrik Laine out cold on the ice with a bodycheck that shook Jets nation.
While he returned in less than three weeks time, there were many nervous days for Winnipeg fans as he recovered from a concussion.
2) Speaking of anxious times, Thursday was Day 1 of the Mark Scheifele watch after he suffered an upper-body injury in the Jets’ 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. This put the club into a tie for second place with the St. Louis Blues in the Central Division heading into Thursday night’s National Hockey League action. Scheifele is out six to eight weeks with his injury.
What a way to start and end 2017.
3) To complete the "bad" section, the Jets finished last season in April, once again not making the playoffs.
What else would you call six months of terrible systems and special-teams play, non-existent discipline and poor defensive work?
Goaltending issues, along with a lot of injuries, finished any chance the Jets had of making the playoffs. While it was nice for the players to win seven meaningless games in a row at the end of league play, it was really only putting lipstick on a pig of a season.
1) This part of 2017 really started for the Jets in the weeks leading up to the National Hockey League expansion and entry drafts in late June.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights to ensure they would choose Chris Thorburn in the expansion draft, allowing Cheveldayoff to keep all of his team’s important players together (the Jets moved from 13th to 24th overall in the entry draft and gave up a third-round pick in the 2019 draft).
This was helped in a big way by Toby Enstrom agreeing to waive the no-movement clause in his contract, a selfless and appreciated move.
2) The "Summer of Chevy" was next, where the GM plugged two holes in the lineup, landing unrestricted free-agent goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitri Kulikov.
Cheveldayoff hadn’t been known as a GM who’d see needs in the organization and go out and address them, making his deals here a major change in his philosophy.
This signalled a move from "draft-and-develop" mode to a commitment to "winning now."
When the Jets were in their playoff run in the 2014-15 season, he did a decent job of filling out the roster with good players — but under different circumstances. The February trade of Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to the Buffalo Sabres made an immediate, positive impact on the lineup.
While there were many other parts to the deal, Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford made significant contributions to Winnipeg’s run and he acquired some good depth players elsewhere.
Kane had demanded a trade years earlier, and friction with his teammates made it impossible for Cheveldayoff to hang onto him any longer.
While those moves were forced upon Cheveldayoff by circumstances, 2017 will be remembered for a summer in which the Jets truly committed to icing a winning hockey club.
It showed in the expansion draft deals and UFA spending of more than $8 million a year for a couple of players to plug holes in the lineup.
While the club blandly states that playoffs are the goal before every season, this year they meant it.
Owner Mark Chipman, Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice all spoke the same language in the pre-season, and the players agreed. It’s "playoffs or bust" and "do some serious damage once we get there."
Heavy words, but heading into their seventh year in Winnipeg it was overdue by a year or two.
While there were mistakes made along the way, there’s legitimate hope that comes from a proactive off-season.
The Jets not only committed to winning at the NHL level, but have the Manitoba Moose lighting up the American Hockey League.
Sitting in first overall, and rolling along at a record pace, they’re having a dream season. After suffering through losing years, this was a badly needed change in the development of the farm club in Winnipeg.
When Pascal Vincent was named head coach of the Moose in May, 2016, the move was questioned by many fans.
Vincent had been under fire for his unsuccessful power-play work with the Jets as an assistant coach. Chipman is also very loyal to his employees, so it wasn’t a big reach for some to think the Jets had just moved him over to the Moose rather than fire him.
However, Vincent has obviously been the right guy for the job. Players are flourishing and developing in a winning environment.
A lot has changed in the 61/2 years since Jets 2.0 took off. But 2017 will be remembered as the year they moved their thinking forward.
While they look to become perennial playoff contenders and enjoy success at both levels, the next step for the Jets is just getting into the playoffs.
They’ve walked their talk so far and deserve to be where they sit, although nothing is coming easily.
Expect it to stay that way.
Chosen ninth overall by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.
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