Winnipeg fans were out in full force at the NHL draft in Minnesota where it was announced the team would be known as the Jets. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Let it first be established that this column is not directed at the fans of the new Winnipeg Jets, who scooped up so many season tickets and made up the second-largest cheering section at the draft in Minnesota. No, this is directed at those who operate the franchise: Step your game up.
Though it’s been a heady summer in Manitoba, reality must sink in at some point and the honeymoon must end. Right now, the Jets are a mediocre team that has made some truly puzzling decisions. Just because your fan base will give you a free pass in the first season, doesn’t mean you should take it.
Starting with off-season moves, the Jets have taken a non-playoff team that already sold off one of its best offensive weapons at the trade deadline in Rich Peverley and then lost Anthony Stewart (coming off his breakout NHL season). Additions have only come in the form of fourth-liners or borderline NHLers such as Rick Rypien, Tanner Glass, Aaron Gagnon and Derek Meech. You hope for natural progressions from excellent youngsters Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov, but depth is a great thing to have as well.
And while it’s all well and good to bring in local talents or guys who played for the American League’s Manitoba Moose – Meech, Rypien and college free agent Jason Gregoire – it’s not like you need to sell this team to Winnipeggers. I’m pretty sure they’re already psyched about NHL hockey’s return.
I wonder if in all the excitement of a “clean slate” and “starting over,” the folks at True North Sports threw out too many Thrashers with the bath water. The franchise had a respected veteran NHL GM in Rick Dudley and a coach to match in Craig Ramsay. They were replaced by a team with far less elite experience. Save for two years as the assistant GM of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s resume is all AHL, as is his assistant GM’s, Craig Heisinger. Their choice for the Jets’ first bench boss was Claude Noel, whose only NHL head coaching experience came in 2009-10 as the interim bench boss in Columbus for 24 games.
Now it is true that simply recycling old talent is no guarantee of success, but it’s a bold move handing an NHL team over to an entirely AHL crew.
With all the best free agents already picked off, Winnipeg has yet to sign a signature player. The team has approximately $43 million committed to 20 players next year, meaning the Jets must spend $5 million more just to get to the salary cap floor. Re-signing restricted free agents Blake Wheeler and Zach Bogosian will get them there, but was this team moved across the continent to be a cap floor franchise? I certainly hope not.
There is time for the Jets to show and prove. Cory Stillman is still out there, as is Brendan Morrison, though neither broke the 50-point barrier last season. And Maybe there’s a blockbuster trade in the works.
No doubt Season 1 of the Jets redux will be a commercial success. And though rebooting a franchise is certainly tough and time consuming, I’m waiting to see a little more improvement coming out of Winnipeg this summer.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.