Winnipeg Jets

Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

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Friedman’s column, December 17th: Conference switch weighs heavy on Jets

Opening:

Friedman opened his 30 Thoughts today by discussing the Winnipeg Jets, whose conference switch has resulted in the terrible reality that CRAP, this is actually kind of terrible for us, even if we did get a friendly schedule with minimal back-to-backs. They’ve signed some long term deals and realize now who they built to play – teams in the sort-of-gross Southeast division – leaves them more than a little short of truly competitive in the West.

From Friedge:

They’ve gone from the Southeast, the only division under the previous setup to never send three teams to the playoffs in a single season, to a schedule that’s 50 per cent Anaheim, Chicago, Colorado, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Phoenix, St. Louis, San Jose and Vancouver.

That…that’s rough. Friedge then references how rare it is to see odd man rushes in West-on-West games, and the Dallas Stars crushed the Jets on four odd-man-like meltdowns en route to their 6-4 win.

The point is…what now for the Jets? Here’s where they sit in the West:

west_standings-2

(click to enlarge)

…And with the honeymoon basically over in Winnipeg (they’re still pumped to have the team, but they’re ready to compete), there will be temptation to start pulling wild triggers and trying to make changes so it’s not another couple decades of sadness, as Jets fans have known in the past. I couldn’t agree more with Elliotte:

This is a very dangerous time for the Jets. When the pressure is on to do something, that’s when an organization’s collective head must be at its clearest. Every team’s goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but suddenly Winnipeg’s path to success is very, very different.

Oh, you need like, a lot of good players.

With all the Evander Kane rumors that come up, you wonder if they don’t pull the trigger on a trade for a haul that nets them a lot of picks and prospects. Because unfortunately, the depth of talent they have now, while far from nothing, isn’t going to be enough.

10 Thoughts

1. As Shawn Thornton of the Bruins prepares for a hearing with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, remember Patrick Kaleta didn’t go to the independent arbitrator because of Bettman’s well-written decision. For the arbitrator to overturn, he must rule the length of the suspension imposed is not supported by “substantial evidence.” There was plenty in Kaleta’s case, but Thornton is not a repeat offender and this is a new kind of penalty. The strength of Bettman’s brief will determine if we see the first such appeal under the new collective bargaining agreement setup.

The ThOrpik Moment© was one of those incidents where the Twitter reaction and real-life reaction were oceans apart. My personal Twitter feed thought it was the most heinous crime since Manson, while most people I talked to in person were sort of…shruggy© about it. As in “I thought it was bad yeah, it was pretty brutal, definitely worth a big suspension. But…. *insert shrugginess* …I dunno, it was sort of unfortunate how it all panned out. It wasn’t That Bad. *deflate shrugginess*”

I feel like a guy with no priors getting a suspension that long was a bit knee-jerky, and I could see this one coming back a few games.

4. Edmonton is trying to trade AHLer Linus Omark, who deserves a shot at the NHL level and isn’t going to get it with the Oilers. This is pure speculation on my part, but Buffalo makes sense. The Sabres are on a pace to score 137 goals. The last time a team scored fewer? Chicago in 1953-54, with 133 in 70 games. Twelve teams bettered that in lockout-shortened 1995. Last year? Eight. Omark’s not a cure, but it’s a sensible gamble, no?

Buffalo: continuing to threaten league futility records like it ain’t no thang. That would make a lot of sense to me (Omark to Buffalo, I mean), it’s just a little bizarre that the Oilers have a player generally accepted to be NHL level and he can’t crack…again, the Oilers? You hear a lot about good players getting drafted by the Red Wings and getting buried in the minors – that’s been a tough roster to crack for two decades. But you don’t hear a lot of guys bulls***ting in the summer going “Yeah, it’s just tough being in the Oilers system, y’know, they’ve got that crazy depth.”

12. There’s been a lot written and said about Ryan Kesler’s return to form with the Vancouver Canucks. The list includes: he’s healthy; he did extra work on his shot; he wants a prime role on the U.S. Olympic Team, etc. Health is undoubtedly the biggest reason, but do not underestimate the fact that head coach John Tortorella didn’t stitch an “A” to Kesler’s jersey. Former Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault had a rotation that included Kesler, but Tortorella went only with Kevin Bieksa and Daniel Sedin alongside captain Henrik Sedin. That would annoy Kesler and he strikes me as one of those guys who plays better when mildly annoyed.

Some people need a pat on the back, and others need a kick in the ass. Again, coaching is half human resources. Kesler certainly doesn’t seem like the pouting type, so Tortorella had the privilege of avoiding the eggshells. That means: ass-kicking time. It sure seems to be working.

Friedman mentions that Luc Robataille was basically campaigning for Anze Kopitar to get some Selke love, and I’m already hearing it about Kesler. Then you’ve got Bergeron, Toews and Datsyuk. That trophy is slowly becoming as respected/desired as the Hart.

16. The Colorado Avalanche laid waste to Dallas, 6-2 on Monday night, days after one competing exec said: “Thank God their defence isn’t there yet because their forwards are outstanding and they’re getting good goaltending.” He added the Avalanche play with incredible tempo and are doing a great job of easing the pressure on their blue-line by quickly getting the puck out of their zone and down the ice.

Y’know what’s crazy, is the Avalanche’s payroll. They’re currently 29th in spending and everyone is building a huge respect for their forwards. Can you imagine if a team like that was like “Okay, we’re going to spend real money, and we don’t even have to do it on huge pieces?” What a dream for a GM.

With the salary floor going up their spending will have to as well. Even that might be enough to push them into the playoffs next year. (Oh, they might make it this year already? Well then damn, they could be really good.)

19. Another interesting rule is what happens when a scout decides he doesn’t like a player. “We tell him to stop,” Kelley said. “Don’t go see him. We’re never not going to draft a player because a scout doesn’t like him … Go see guys you like. That’s how we build our board.”

This is kinda…curious, I dunno. This is like saying you’re only going to give positive reviews as a movie or book critic. It’s a waste, because we’d like to know what you – someone who watches hockey for a living – sees as a player’s deficiency (or sees as a movies deficiency, and so on). Am I the only who thinks that’s an obvious sentiment? If the conversation in the draft room is:

Scout A: “I just love his hands around the net.”

And Scout B thought that the player wasn’t going to have the speed to get to use those hands at the top level because he has a borked stride, you’d like to have that information, no?

I dunno, that seems silly to me.

20. I just finished reading One Last Strike, Tony LaRussa’s book about the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series victory. LaRussa retired after that season and there’s a similar message in it about first baseman Allen Craig, who was getting pulled for a defensive replacement late in games. LaRussa felt people were using it as a negative against him. So he went to Craig, explaining why his contributions were very valuable despite that. Craig hit three home runs with an OPS of 1.154 in the Series. I’m a big believer in this thinking. Everyone has flaws. Too often, we focus on those instead of what people do well.

This is kind of a place I think the burgeoning advanced stat crowd (or some of them anyway) misuse use zone starts. Most of them have come around and stopped using the word “sheltered” for a guy who gets a lot of offensive zone starts in favor of “deployed” or “utilized,” but not everyone. The idea that a coach would be like “we can’t start the Sedins (or whoever) in the d-zone, they’re terrible there!” is off by miles. Skill players make good plays with the puck and get out of their zone just fine. You just want to maximize what you get from them. As in, it doesn’t make you bad if your coach/manager uses you properly. You can still be an asset. (Sometimes talented guys just get lost on bad teams because they never play games that matter.)

In that sense, I’m fully on board with Elliotte, WHICH, incidentally, is why the P.K. Subban/Team Canada debate is still such a mess. Dude does 10 things better than almost every other player, but what about that one thing? Mike Babcock will know how to use his assets, have no doubt.

23. Every NHL team, including Chicago, passed on Andrew Shaw in 2009 and again in 2010 before the Blackhawks drafted him 139th overall in 2011. What changed? Shaw’s visit to the Memorial Cup with the OHL Owen Sound Attack. “He would get his points, but not on the first power play and not with the best players,” Kelley said. “We thought if he was a good third-line player in the OHL, he could be one in the NHL. Of course, if we knew then what we know now, we would have taken him a lot higher.”

Scouting is hard, man.

This reminded me of something coaches tell you in junior and college and wherever it is you’re trying to make it from: do the right things all year and help your team win, because it’ll do more for you personally than just helping yourself look good today. You can be selfish and fly the zone looking for breakaways all year, and it might net you whatever, three more goals. But if you’re costing your team 10 by abandoning the zone and not covering your guy, you lose a lot of games. And so, the scouts don’t come see your team play much because you don’t make playoffs, you don’t make the finals, you don’t make the big games that scouts love to watch (because hey, must be a lot of good players in one place).

Do it right, do it team-first, and you’ll benefit personally from those sacrifices.

24. Kane, by the way, has become the best “zone entry” player in the NHL. What does he ask his linemates to do once he gets into the offensive zone? “One of them has to go to net,” he said, then paused. “Actually, I’d prefer both of them go to the net.”

Mmm, delicious east-west Kane zone-entries. His linemates are so reliable in what I was talking about above – doing the right, simple things like driving the middle lane, getting to the net and so on – that d-men have to back off and allow him that space. If he played with guys who all wanted to be the high guy for the one-timer, he’d get less clean entries, and be less valuable. The letter of the day today kids is T for Teamwork.

25. There is a lot of debate about taking Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz of the Penguins as a pair for the Canadian Olympic team. In Monday night’s 3-2 loss at Ottawa, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues had a two-minute shift in overtime. They were on the ice for 26 seconds before teammate Derek Roy took a penalty and the duo stayed to kill the first 1:33 of it. Those guys are going to the Sochi Winter Games together.

Damn, that’s the first definitive “Bouwmeester is going to Sochi” opinion I’ve heard. So what, we gonna be rocking Keith-Seabrook, Pietrangelo-Bouwmeester and…Doughty-Muzzin? Oh god no.

I’m okay with taking pairs on D waaaaay more than I am taking Chris Kunitz, a winger who cashes in on one of the game’s best passers with his good shot, because wingers, man. Offense is all about creativity – crossed wires can create confusion as much as they can problems for you in the o-zone. Newness isn’t much of a risk. Defense is about reliability. Those guys make reads and switches and all the rest in the d-zone, and if one of those goes wrong the puck’s in the net.

Pairs on D yay, pairs up front nay.

28. Another piece of advice came from his father Dan, who won 125 games in a 13-year, major-league pitching career. “He told me, ‘Make sure you go see your coach and ask him what he wants. You have to know the answer.’”

What’s unbelievable to me is that there are – and ohhhh boy, there are – coaches at the highest level hockey who make their players guess. Randy Carlyle comes to mind. How the hell can a guy improve something if he doesn’t know it’s an issue? Why would there ever be a “secret” between a coach and a player? I think communication is such a huge part of the job that…that it just baffles me. It’s like a terrible relationship moment. Well if YOU don’t KNOW what’s wrong, then why would I tell you? 

What the what now?

Comments (14)

  1. This is the last year Avs are playing with house money on the payroll. Duchene and Landeskog have their (6 & 7 yr.) extensions kick in next year. They have to pay (or trade) Stastny, Varlamov (his price has gone down fair or not), and…..Factor (again).

  2. I have a hard time believing Friedman’s point of the Jets being built to compete in the Eastern Conference or in the Southeast Division. It seemed pretty clear to me that they were going to be moved to the Western Conference as soon as it was viable from the moment the move to Manitoba was announced. I would expect that management would be making decisions (and sales pitches to free agents, etc) with that knowledge in mind from the start.

    • Yes, but that’s only three years ago. They have a decade of Atlanta player development before that to get over, and while the West was scary three years ago, it wasn’t like THIS.

      • In particular, both Bourne and Friedman refer to long-term deals.
        Looking at the Jets roster, Wheeler, Kane, Little, Ladd, Enstrom, Byfuglien, Bogosian and Pavelec are the guys on long-term deals. Of that list, only Byfuglien was re-signed by the Atlanta Thrashers (in February of 2011). Everyone else was signed after the move.

        • Stephen’s point is still a good one though. Jets management may have underestimated just how good the West is – mainly because Minnesota and Colorado took big steps forward this year. Maybe they thought the Jets were good enough to be in the playoff picture?

          Jets management needs to own that though. They can’t control Minnesota and Colorado making their division hopelessly competitive like it is now, but they can control over-valuing guys like Pavelec and maybe Bogosian and yeah maybe Wheeler. They can also control having Matt Halischuk as a top-9 regular (former Nashville 4th liner) and being one injury away from Chris Thorburn on the 2nd line.

          They just need more good players is probably what this boils down to. And yeah not sure why they didn’t see this coming, more or less. Most ‘expert’ panels predicted the Jets to be 5th/6th/7th before the season.

  3. Omark can’t crack the Oilers because he is the exact same type of player as the entire roster-small with skill. If he isnt going to adapt to play a 3rd or 4th line roll do you expect him to beat out Hemsky, Hall, Nuge, Eberle, Yak, etc?

    Another really small player in Arcobello was given a similar shot and is an everyday player for that team now. Just a thought.

    • Even if he was playing better then hall, nuge or Yak he wouldnt be given a chance because of where they were drafted.

  4. Re #19: I think you misunderstand what Kelley is saying. He is not closing his mind to a scout’s negative evaluations of a player. But once Kelley receives that information, he won’t re-send that same scout to check on that same player again. Perhaps because Kelley thinks the scout is now biased against the player, and/or perhaps he would now prefer another scout to make a (fresh) evaluation.

    • That is how I took it. In the movie analogy it’s equivalent to: if you only have a certain amount of time to watch movies, don’t waste your time continuing to watch bad movies, find a good one.

  5. Could you elaborate on number 23? Were third-liners in the NHL really third-liners in juniors too? If you’re good enough to make it to the NHL eventually, wouldn’t you be on the first line in juniors?

    • Yes, that’s usually the case. 85% of the players in the NHL today were the best players on their junior teams. Even goons and 4th liners were often 1st liners putting up decent numbers. So a guy who misses his first 2 drafts because he isn’t putting up numbers has a very small chance of making all the way. Yes, there are exceptions, but as the scouting is getting better (and more comprehensive), these players are getting fewer and farther between.

  6. NHL East = MLB NL
    NHL West = MLB AL

    ???

    In baseball it’s been common to question how a player will perform coming from the NL to the AL. Especially in the AL East. There was a structural reason (the DH) but it was more than that.

    I know storylines like that can get blown out of proportion… and lots of Jets players played in the West last year or recently… but yeah. Totally possible management underestimated the difference.

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