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Opinion

Trading for playoff toughness a mistake Jets GM shouldn't make

Winnipeg Jets' Jacob Trouba (8) celebrates his goal against the New Jersey Devils during the second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, November 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p>

Winnipeg Jets' Jacob Trouba (8) celebrates his goal against the New Jersey Devils during the second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Saturday, November 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/2/2018 (482 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Despite the Winnipeg Jets' excellent season, it appears some fans are looking for more physical play when it comes to their favourite team.

The rumblings started after the Jets' shootout loss to a “heavy” Anaheim Ducks team on Jan. 25 and increased after losses to the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings this month. The latter two clubs are also known for their physical play.

This debate about whether or not the Jets need to add some toughness to their lineup before Monday’s trade deadline has ramped up even with hitters like Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev and Jacob Trouba — currently out of the lineup — likely to return in plenty of time for the playoffs.

And there are no guarantees injuries will come to a halt.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/2/2018 (482 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Despite the Winnipeg Jets' excellent season, it appears some fans are looking for more physical play when it comes to their favourite team.

The rumblings started after the Jets' shootout loss to a "heavy" Anaheim Ducks team on Jan. 25 and increased after losses to the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings this month. The latter two clubs are also known for their physical play.

This debate about whether or not the Jets need to add some toughness to their lineup before Monday’s trade deadline has ramped up even with hitters like Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev and Jacob Trouba — currently out of the lineup — likely to return in plenty of time for the playoffs.

And there are no guarantees injuries will come to a halt.

There’s something to the theory that you can get thrown off your best game when you’re playing the same team every second night in the playoffs — being hit almost every time you touch the puck gets tiring.

Of course, there are teams out there that can be downright dirty in their approach to this, increasing chances of injury.

If the Jets get matched up in the playoffs against a physical team, can they handle all that banging and come out ahead?

The key for success is having a squad that is not only fast, but makes plays quickly, taking the hitters out of the game. Arriving behind the play all night gets old fast.

The Jets at their best can be that team, but we’re likely not going to know if they can get back to that level on a regular basis until we get closer to the playoffs.

When rolling, they’re first on the puck and dominate with a furious forecheck. They take away a lot of what most teams want to do by forcing the issue.

The speedsters have learned that winning puck battles is more important than making a hit — I always want possession of the puck over running over somebody.

The big hit has its place; it’s just secondary in importance.

Lately the Jets have feasted on weakened foes that played a "lighter" game, which is an improvement from past Jets teams, but those soft games disappear in the playoffs.

All that said, it’s hard for me to want more toughness in their lineup.

I played in an era that having physical players on a team was a necessary ingredient to having success. Every fan wants another parade at Portage at Main, like the one that I experienced in 1979 when we won the Avco Cup. Nobody scared that team.

I haven’t forgotten that, but the game has changed over the years. Players who hit and intimidate, but otherwise do very little, are becoming extinct.

So why did the Pittsburgh Penguins pay a big price to land hitter/intimidator Ryan Reaves last summer, after winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row without his type in the regular lineup? Reaves is a better player than a lot of "tough guys" but I wondered about the logic when the deal was made.

That the Penguins are again showing signs of a being a top contender only fuels this, but I’ll take the two cups in a row as evidence you don’t need it.

Those clubs were built with scoring and talent throughout their lineup — and having a couple of superstars didn’t hurt.

If the Jets are going to add someone known for hitting, it should be a player like the Edmonton Oilers' Patrick Maroon, because he’s also good at playing hockey. I preferred others in last week’s column (and still do), but he would be a decent addition.

The reality is, you can’t build a perfect roster to combat every style that different teams play. To win it all you need to be capable of beating deep, talented teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville Predators or Penguins.

To me, adding physical, hard-hitting players over talented ones would be a bad choice. The Jets may need to make some adjustments against the heavier teams, but it’s the right way to go.

There’s a lot of talk that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to add some playoff experience too, ideally players that have won a Stanley Cup.

I believe that targeting former cup winners is a mistake unless the player is a proven talent. I’ve seen too many teams over the years pay excessively for the ring on a player’s finger without considering the actual value of the one wearing it.

Often a team simply grows into a champion. The '80s New York Islanders had a lot of cup winners, AFTER they won their first one, as did the Oilers.

The Chicago Blackhawks, Kings and Penguins are the latest examples of this.

Sure, playoff experience might come in handy, but only if attached to the right player.

The ones with first-hand knowledge (including current Jets) will be heard in the room, and could possibly help if the Jets get rattled. However, the most important thing is to lead by playing well though those difficult times. Talk becomes cheap in times of trouble.

When healthy, their lineup is arguably as talented as anybody’s, but the Jets still have a long road ahead. They are also tough enough on a physical level — I see no reason to acquire "hitter" insurance in case of injuries.

If they decide to bring in some protection against players getting hurt, they’d spend their assets more wisely by simply upgrading their talent level.

It’s what wins in today’s game.

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.

Twitter: @NHL_Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell
Columnist

Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.

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