While we’re not in Winnipeg, we can probably guess that there’s still a lot of excitement surrounding the new Jets. That’s admirable, especially when you consider that the team doesn’t have a logo. Or a jersey. Or team colours. And especially considering that the team did essentially nothing in free agency.
As Kent Wilson pointed out in his free agency grades post:
Kevin Chevaldayoff’s best signing so far has been middle-tier defender Randy Jones at $1.15 million for next year. Otherwise the organization has busied itself collecting marginal players and goons in tweener Derek Meech, tough guy Tanner Glass and pugilist Rick Rypien.
The Jets have a decent enough nucleus to build around, but the team still finished 10th in the Eastern conference last year. They’re going to need a lot more than tough guys and depth defenders if they want to take a step forward this coming season.
The Atlanta Thrashers weren’t a good hockey team. They had potential and looked promising at times, but will that promise show up in Winnipeg or should the Jets have done more?
The Jets are just over the $43.4 million cap floor, so they may not want to spend any more money. As a team playing in a small market, the Jets may not be able to afford to spend more than the minimum… or they may not want to.
That could be a problem. It could be that we’re not faced with the predictable “no one wants to play in Winnipeg” excuse, but that we’re instead looking at a “Winnipeg doesn’t have money to spend” or “Winnipeg doesn’t want to spend more” excuses.
Winnipeg made a smart move when the team re-signed captain Andrew Ladd to a five year contract. Ladd is a team leader and, despite being only 25 years old, he has two Stanley Cups to his name. Ladd has the potential to become the face of the Winnipeg franchise for years to come and re-signing him for five years gives the team some excellent stability as it moves from Atlanta to Winnipeg.
Apparently the team is working on a deal with Blake Wheeler as well and it looks like things are going well on that front. That’s the good news.
However, as mentioned earlier, the Thrashers were not a successful team. Their struggles over the years are well-documented, as the team still hasn’t won a playoff game.
The fans in Winnipeg did their part and sold out the MTS Centre for the next five years, but at some point the team will need to have success on the ice. It can only survive on enthusiasm and “new car smell” for so long. Leafs general manager Brian Burke had a point when he said “it’s harder if the team hasn’t won a championship in five years and you’re renewing all those things. That’s the test.”
Hockey teams struggle to draw fans when the team is losing. Look at Pittsburgh, Chicago and Washington before they started winning. Look at Dallas and Colorado now. Sure, those are all American teams and of course we all know how much better Canadian fans are but the point remains. It’s much easier to sell tickets when your team is winning.
Don’t the owners in Winnipeg owe it to those fans who snatched up season tickets at a torrid pace to ice a competitive team? Or is just having a hockey team in the city good enough? Is the team trying to make signings but failing?
That doesn’t mean that the team should have thrown its money around at free agents, especially not in this inflated market. We’ve seen time and time again that tossing cash at big name players doesn’t necessarily lead to glory. Perhaps the Jets were smart to avoid the temptation of a quick fit in favour of growing the team organically. This could be exactly what the Jets need to become a perennial competitor.
Rather than throwing cash around and trying to quickly turn things around, Winnipeg’s management could be attempting to grow this team from within which is certainly admirable and it could turn out to be a very smart strategy.
The Jets certainly have several talented players in their line-up as well as a new ownership team, general manager and coaching staff. A change of venue and some time to grow may be exactly what this team needs. However, filling in a few holes and adding players to a team that shows a lot of potential would have gone a long way to showing the fans and the rest of the league that Winnipeg is serious. They didn’t need to make a huge, ridiculous splash in free agency, but some strong depth signings would have helped. Randy Jones isn’t going to make this team a competitor, but he likely won’t be expected to.
This team will likely be much more successful than the Thrashers ever were, but that’s not exactly a high standard to beat. That said, perhaps the Jets are being smart with how they’re building the team. Only time will tell.
Now… about those jerseys…