Throwing An Illegal Curve: Winnipeg Jets Q&A

So, now we have done it! After taking about a week off or so, the Q&A quest is back with the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg is where Travis Zajac is from so bear with me here. I actually did find someone who covers the Jets and has a soft spot for the New Jersey Devils at the same time. People did not think this was possible and yet it is.

Ezra Ginsburg steps up from Illegal Curve to take his turn on the hot seat. He took on our twelve questions bravely and answered them with tact and some humor too. Mr. Ginsburg was also the first person to send me the answers via Google Docs. So let’s have some fun and open this thing up.

Here we go………….


Claude Noel was finally sacked last year and Paul Maurice was brought in. Ultimately they still did not make the playoffs. What went wrong?

Paul Maurice
Claude Noel was finally sacked and Maurice has a new extension. (Vincent Muzik/ICON SMI)


The Winnipeg Jets were simply too inconsistent last year. Sure, when Paul Maurice took over behind the bench from Claude Noel in January, the Jets won 9 of 11 games but a six game winless streak in early March essentially knocked the Jets out of playoff contention. Overall the Jets were 18-12-5 under Maurice (a big reason why he was signed to a 4-year contract in April) but their record in the tough Central Division (they lost 20 of 29 games) was a huge reason why Winnipeg missed the playoffs for the third year in a row since coming over from Atlanta. The Jets will have to significantly improve their record in their own division if they want a shot at making the playoffs.


Blake Wheeler tossed a comment out there about Evander Kane. Is this much ado about nothing or is there more to it?


Blake Wheeler’s comment to ESPN’s Craig Custance at the NHL’s annual Media Day could not have been more straightforward: “He needs to step up and be a leader on this team.” Wheeler was not being condescending when he made the comment to Custance and the fact of the matter is Wheeler is right.  Kane is 23 years old now and entering the third year of a six year, $31.5 million contract which means that this is arguably the most important year of Kane’s career thus far. Kane has been the center of controversy and criticism over the last three years but the Jets need Kane to be a leader on this team as he is the most skilled player they have.


Ondrej Pavelec has not exactly lived up to his contract. Can Michael Hutchinson steal a significant amount of playing time from him?


Ondrej Pavelec had his worst season statistically as a Winnipeg Jet in 2013’14. His 3.01 goals against average was 25th among starting goalies in the NHL who played at least half of the season while his .901 save percentage was 26th among starting goalies. Pavelec has to better for the Jets this season. Period. The good news for Jets fan is Pavelec appears to be in much improved physical shape entering training camp, something Pavelec has been criticized for in years past. As far as Michael Hutchinson is concerned, don’t expect him to compete with Pavelec to be the Number-1 goalie. The 24-year-old Hutchinson has only started three games in the NHL and his job will be to back up Pavelec this year. Pavelec is in the third year of a five year, $19.5 million contract and has to prove he is a legitimate Number-1 goaltender again. Expect Pavelec to start 60-65 games for the Jets this year.


Is this the year (if things go wrong) that Winnipeg considers selling off some of their high value assets (Kane, Byfuglien, etc.)?


It’s tough to predict whether or not Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will trade any significant assets if the team finds itself out of the playoff picture before next year’s Trade Deadline as Cheveldayoff has yet to make a significant player-for-player trade since being named as GM of the Jets back in 2011. Byfuglien is much likelier to be traded than Kane. Byfuglien has two years left on his current contract and could fetch a significant return from a contending team looking for a player with Stanley Cup Playoff experience. The likelihood that Byfuglien is traded is unknown at this point but the fact that he becomes a UFA after 2015’16 has to have Cheveldayoff thinking about his long-term future with the team.


Jacob Trouba has been fun to watch develop. What do you expect from him this year?

Jacob Trouba, USA hockey
Jacob Toruba has one very bright future for Winnipeg and Team USA. (Ikon)


Jacob Trouba had an excellent rookie season with the Jets last season (29 points in 65 games) and the future could not look brighter for the 20-year-old defenseman from Rochester, Michigan. Trouba overcame a scary neck injury early in the season to become one of the team’s best defenseman. Trouba averaged over 22 minutes a game last year which is truly impressive for a rookie in the ultra-tough Central Division. Trouba will be expected to play in all situations again this year for the Jets and an increase in offensive production is likely if Trouba stays healthy. Trouba is one of the best young defenseman in the game and has 50-60 point potential.


When does Winnipeg make a player for player trade? It has been a long while.


It seems logical to think that Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will make a player-for-player trade this season as he has yet to make one since being named GM of the Jets back in 2011. Because the Jets are in tough to make the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference, Cheveldayoff may consider making some trades later this season with an eye on improving his team for next season. Having said that, Cheveldayoff has stuck to his draft-and-develop mantra and may decide that he doesn’t want to move any of his veteran players even if the team finds itself out of the playoff picture this year. It’s really a guessing game at this point.


How patient are Winnipeg fans at this point or should I say Impatient?


It has only been three years since NHL hockey returned to Winnipeg but fans are definitely becoming more impatient, especially season ticket holders. And if they aren’t they should be. No Jets fans have enjoyed the fact that the team has missed the playoffs for the last three years so fans are definitely expecting this team to improve. However, expectations for this team haven’t changed much as every other team in the Jets division has gotten significantly better while the Jets have essentially stayed the same. Support for the team in Winnipeg is excellent (every home game is a sellout) but hockey fans in Winnipeg are intelligent. They expect a lot out of their team.


The Central Division is probably the toughest division in hockey right now. How can Winnipeg find its way up the ladder?

This arena has not seen a playoff game out of the Jets. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)
This arena has not seen a playoff game out of the Jets. (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)


The Central Division is the best division in the National Hockey League and it’s not even close. Winnipeg finished 7th in the 7 team division last year and it’s going to be tough for them to improve on that finish this season as every team in the division has gotten better. Chicago signed Brad Richards. St.Louis signed Paul Stastny. Minnesota signed Thomas Vanek. Dallas traded for Jason Spezza. Nashville traded for James Neal. The only way the Jets can find its way up the ladder is if they have internal improvement. Starting with Ondrej Pavelec in net, the Jets are going to need better performances from the players that they have signed to long term contracts. Two other players that need to be better for the Jets are 23-year-old forward Evander Kane, who had a disappointing 41 points last year and 24-year-old defenseman Zach Bogosian who was signed to a 7-year contract before the 2013’14 season. Bogosian had 11 points in 55 games for the Jets last year so more will be expected from him this year.


What big things are planned for Illegal Curve this year?


NHL Mid-Week with Illegal Curve returns for a third season on October 8th, 2014 on TSN 1290 Radio in Winnipeg and will broadcast live each week from 6-8 pm CST while The Illegal Curve Hockey Show will continue on Saturdays from Noon-3 pm CST. We will be introducing some new segments on Illegal Curve this year including “Saturday Spotlight” which will feature one-on-one interviews conducted by Richard Pollock.


What is the biggest need that the Winnipeg Jets have right now?


The biggest need for the Jets right now is a bonafide left shooting Top-four defenseman. Mark Stuart has done an admirable job playing on the Jets second defensive pairing but he is ideally suited for a bottom pairing role. The Jets have some talent in their defense corps with Jacob Trouba, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian but they are weak on the left side. As it stands now, it will be either Mark Stuart or Grant Clitsome who will play in the Top-Four. If the Jets want to make the playoffs they are going to have to get better at this position.


Which prospects in the Jets system should we be keeping an eye on?

The kid has wheels, moves, and just needs some time to hone his craft. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
The kid has wheels, moves, and just needs some time to hone his craft. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)


There are several excellent prospects in the Jets system but the players who have the highest upside are Josh Morrissey and Nikolaj Ehlers. Morrissey (2013, 13th overall) had an excellent season with the Prince Albert Raiders in the WHL last season (73 points in 59 games) and also played 28 games with the St.John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League. Morrissey has a legitimate shot to play in the National Hockey League this coming season but may also spend one more year in the Western Hockey League. Morrissey isn’t flashy but he is an excellent skater who possesses tremendous vision on the ice. He projects as a Top-Four defenseman in the NHL. Ehlers (2014 9th overall) is coming off a 104-point season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL and is the most dynamic prospect in the Jets system. Ehlers will attend the Jets main camp this fall but it is highly likely that he plays at least one more year in junior before plays a full year in the NHL. Ehlers has world class speed and goal scoring ability and it doesn’t hurt that he can also speak six different languages. The Jets have a good one in Ehlers.


How do you expect Winnipeg to fare in the 2014-15 season? Playoffs? Golfing? McDavid?


The Winnipeg Jets will benefit from a full year under Head Coach Paul Maurice and the acquisition of center Mathieu Perreault but I don’t think the Jets improved enough in the offseason to finish higher in the Central Division. The future certainly looks bright for the Jets with the likes of Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba but the team still has a long way to go before they make the playoffs.