There isn’t much joy in Jetsville.
Take a quick look at newspaper comment sections, Twitter feed, or Facebook post and you’ll find many have written the 2019-20 season off as the All-Star weekend is upon us and the Winnipeg Jets have lost four straight.
Here’s a selection from the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre’s game recap piece following the Jets’ 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday: (from ‘Jets’ tailspin continues,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 01/21/2020.)
- “Time to start thinking about next year.”
- “Thought the boys played with more energy and enthusiasm. Let’s face it: this season is essentially over. The Jets do not have the talent on the back end accompanied with a seemingly never ending series of injuries.”
- “Well I’ll be able to (save) a few bucks come playoff time… no tickets needed.”
Here’s some from the Twitter thread announcing the final score of the same game:
- “For the past two weeks, it looks like we don’t even care.”
- “We’re going the lottery way.”
- “Absolutely disgraceful performance. In all my years as a fan of this team I’ve never seen a group of players so lazy and pathetic. I’m taking my fan-hood to St. Louis where it looks like they know how to run a hockey team.”
Lastly, here’s a couple from a few different Facebook posts on the official Jets’ page:
- “It’s looking like an early golf season for our Jets.”
- “So…. How’s the draft looking this year?”
- “What is wrong with those Jets? Everything it seems!”
Those are just a few of hundreds of comments and don’t even include the ones made after the Jets blew three separate leads versus the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday and fell 4-3.
Most Knew Regression Was Inevitable
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge on why strong teams win knew the Jets were capturing victories in an unsustainable fashion earlier this season.
The Jets were 20-11-2 by mid-December, but reached the mark only because Connor Hellebuyck kept bailing out the patchwork defence, because the top six was enjoying continuity and firing on all cylinders, and because they were embracing their identity as a hard-working team that “stays in the fight.”
The other shoe was bound to drop eventually and the nightmarish underlying numbers — poor puck possession percentages, one of the lowest number of minutes ahead in a game, and way too many high-danger scoring chances against — were bound to catch up with them. The only question: how long could analytics be damned? The answer: not quite long enough.
The Jets have taken a precipitous plunge since then, and have just five wins in their last 18 games. They certainly didn’t give their mothers — who came along for the recent three-game road trip through Chicago, Carolina, and Columbus — much to cheer about, as they lost all three and were outscored 13-6 in the process.
They’ve been behind the eight-ball early way too often and have not won a game in which they’ve trailed since Nov. 27.
The Jets will probably miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. A season ago, it took 90 points to qualify for the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot, and 99 to be among the Central Division’s top three.
The Jets, currently three points out of the second wild-card spot, have 54 points and 31 games remaining. To get to 90 points, they’d need to win 18 of their remaining games (or win fewer but lose a lot in overtime.)
To get to 99, they’d need 45 more points or 22.5 more wins. That’ll be nearly impossible given the state of the team and their strength of schedule remaining.
Maurice Not to Blame for This Mess
While Jets fans know why their team is struggling, they’re largely blaming the wrong guy for the descent.
You’ll find countless clamouring for head coach Paul Maurice’s ouster, (just search up #Momustgo on Twitter) especially since four teams that have more points than the Jets canned their coaches this season: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, and Vegas Golden Knights.
Maurice, really, is doing the best he can with a bad hand. He hasn’t lost the room but circumstances out of his control haven’t been kind to him. The NHL’s second-longest tenured bench boss has had to deal with injuries that have battered his blue line, losing Bryan Little — and more recently Adam Lowry — long-term, and Dustin Byfuglien’s leave of absence, which he sprung the team on day one of training camp.
The person who should be feeling the most heat and receiving the bulk of criticism is general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. While the GM is a wizard at the draft table and deserves credit for stocking a pantry that was bare when the Jets relocated from Atlanta in 2011, he has not had a good last 12 months.
He traded away Brendan Lemieux and his first-round pick to the New York Rangers for Kevin Hayes at last season’s trade deadline. The rental didn’t work out as the Jets were in the process of imploding when he swung the deal.
Cheveldayoff got his first-rounder back in the Jacob Trouba trade, which he used to select Ville Heinola. The team, however, is sorely missing the grit and toughness someone such as Brendan Lemieux — or Brandon Tanev, who Cheveldayoff let walk to the Pittsburgh Penguins — provides.
Cheveldayoff has spent to the cap ceiling on his homegrown talent but didn’t leave enough room last summer to sign a veteran d-man despite the desperate need to mitigate losing Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot.
He made only minor deals (signing Anthony Bitetto, Mark Letestu, and Gabriel Bourque) in the offseason and has only made waiver-wire additions during the season; those players work hard but are incapable of fulfilling the roles they’ve been given. Questionable contracts tendered in years past to Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Dmitry Kulikov have hurt the club, too.
Cheveldayoff said a month ago he’d be open to making a big trade — saying his commitment to his core players is to be dedicated to “try and win every year” and not just sit there saying “well, wait until next year.” (from ‘Panic? What Panic?’ Winnipeg Free Press, 12/30/19).
The time to course-correct with a big addition has passed: it’s too late to fully fix these deep and systemic problems now. The GM would be foolish to part with his first-round pick as he’s done in the past two seasons in a last-ditch attempt to sneak his floundering club into the playoffs. They’re better off selling and acquiring more draft picks.
If Maurice is fired, he’d be a sacrificial lamb, and nothing more, for a GM who failed to address glaring issues in a timely manner.
“While GMs fire head coaches to protect their own behinds, what type of message do you suppose firing Maurice would send to future coaches under Cheveldayoff?” the Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck asked recently. “That no matter the lack of talent you possess, you’ll be judged as if you were coaching a juggernaut?”From ‘Jets free fall could cost Maurice, whether he deserves it or not,’ Winnipeg Sun, 01/21/2020.
Fan Disillusionment Will Impact the Bottom Line
Indeed, angst levels in Jetsville are at an all-time high. The 2017-18 season — where the team won a franchise-high 52 games, a big win at Bell MTS Place was almost a foregone conclusion, and tens of thousands took to the streets during raucous Whiteout parties — seems like a million years ago. Hopes that were high for a Stanley Cup, even after the Jets were bested in the Western Conference Final that season, are long gone.
You have to wonder how the Jets’ struggles will impact attendance and the season ticket holder base in the years to come. Much has been made in the past number of months about True North Sports & Entertainment’s belief that the game will sell itself and their lack of willingness to invest in the game-day experience.
It’s certainly true that a night at Bell MTS Place is pretty utilitarian, if not downright boring, compared to many other markets. True North has to do a better job giving fans — many of whom have expressed that they’ve stopped going to games because their viewing experience is better in front of their big-screens — something to venture out in the Winnipeg winter for.
The honeymoon period is over. Winnipeggers don’t just want NHL hockey: they want winning NHL hockey and a bang for their buck. They’re rightfully upset and have lost faith because they’re getting neither of those things.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.