Everybody knows that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars have already won the 2014 offseason. Of course, that doesn't mean that the other six teams of Conference III spent the summer sitting on their hands. No. The Central Division is about to get fun.
Over the next few weeks we'll look at the offseason moves and acquisitions of the other Conference III teams. Who's improved, who's trending in the other direction, and what to watch for in the 2014-2015 season. Following reverse standings order, we begin with the Winnipeg Jets...
Due to numerous factors, including parity in the league, the Bettman point, and all Western Conference teams (aside from the Stars) beating up on Eastern Conference teams and stealing their lunch money, the Winnipeg Jets managed to remain relevant for a long stretch of the 2013-14 season. Not to say that they ever really projected better than a bubble-team, where they hovered with the likes of the Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators, and Phoenix Coyotes for the first three-quarters of the season. Of course, we all know how that turned out.
So after finishing 7th in the Central Division, seven points back of a playoff spot, what do the Winnipeg Jets need to step into the sphere of being legitimate contenders? Well. Whatever it is, it's unlikely they got it over this offseason. No, they didn't exactly do nothing, but their summer moves are more of the yawn-inducing variety than anything else, which is why I was going to title the next section ‘Biggest Splash,' but have instead decided to title it simply...
Trades the Winnipeg Jets Made this Offseason that Warranted a Bullet-Point Mention on NHL.com
Goaltender Eddie Pasquale and a sixth-round pick to Washington, for a sixth- and seventh-round pick, and a 2015 seventh-round pick.
I have lots of things to say, but none of them bear even the slightest relevance to the above two lines. So... Moving on.
Free Agents that Actually Signed with the Winnipeg Jets this Offseason
Scrolling down the list. Scrolling down... Ah-ha! Winnipeg wrest forward Mathieu Perreault away from the Anaheim Ducks! So it's not true that nobody wants to sign in Winnipeg. Just most people. Additionally, free agents Adam Pardy and Chris Thorburn re-signed in Winnipeg. Fools! They were free! The shackles had been cut loose! And what do they do? Go right back to the frigid north... Although I do hear it's pretty nice there in the summertime.
Players that Last Year Were Referred to as Jets, but Currently Aren't
Did you know that Olli Jokinen was still playing? Yeah, and he asked the Jets for a lot of money, which they didn't give him. So he went to Nashville. Guess we'll talk about that one next week...
Meanwhile, Devin Setoguchi remains an unrestricted free agent after a disappointing season in Winnipeg. Ho-hum.
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So, yeah... The Winnipeg Jets were fairly quiet this offseason. Know who else was fairly quiet this offseason? The Los Angeles Kings. So obviously Winnipeg feels they're in a place where they don't need to... or at least... well, huh. Maybe they would have been in on Jason Spezza, except he nixed the whole of Canada with his no-trade clause. And they probably at least talked to a few free agents besides Perreault. At least I assume they did.
Unsurprisingly, because it's Winnipeg, the biggest offseason news from the Jets is about a trade that hasn't happened, and under no circumstances should. Oh Winnipeg Media! What's with the perpetual roasting of Evander Kane, and can't we all agree that him favoriting a Tweet about a potential trade is just funny?
Or maybe where there's smoke there's fire, all this reading between the lines has been wholly accurate, and we'll see a blockbuster of the minor sort before the summer is out with Evander Kane being shipped some place that can handle a brash young star. Like Dallas, for example. I hear they might have a space on the left wing of their second-line...
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Kane is a Jet. For now...
So what else is going on in Winnipeg? Well, seeing as I couldn't even point to the city on a map, I figured I'd seek out some local advice. So I found a guy named Travis Hrubeniuk. Travis is an editor at Arctic Ice Hockey, and also the creator of the JetStream Podcast. Both of which I take as pretty solid proof that he knows what he's talking about. Which is why I'm going to let him talk. Write, whatever.
1) Dallas Stars fans are pretty excited about the changes that have occurred this offseason. Losing a player with a nickname like Toaster was certainly painful, but in his place the Stars now have the makings of a dominant second line. ‘Turning a weakness into a strength,' or something clichéd like that. What are the sentiments in Winnipeg this summer? Basically, are you getting excited for the 2014-15 season, and why?
It's been a very up-and-down offseason here in Winnipeg. It'll be great for the Jets to see Devin Setoguchi leave, and Kevin Cheveldayoff was smart to avoid giving Olli Jokinen the money he was reportedly asking for here. "Addition by subtraction" I think they call it. I also want to give Chevy some credit for another solid draft (even without having a second round pick). First round pick Nikolaj Ehlers looks to be a highly skilled piece that the Jets desperately need for their future and Jack Glover is a player that a lot of people weren't expecting to be available in the third round.
In terms of free agency, Chevy did well in acquiring Mathieu Perreault for 3 years at $3 million per. He should fill in as a perfect replacement for Olli Jokinen as he has been equally productive, is much younger and comes at a terrific price. Sadly, that's where the good news seems to end. Chevy re-upped a "depth" defenseman in Adam Pardy, which at face value looks like a decent move. Yet when you take into account the fact that Mark Stuart was extended earlier this season, the Jets now have at least 3 third-pairing left handed defenseman and nobody skilled enough to play with Jacob Trouba on the second pair. It was a clear hole in the Jets lineup that simply was not addressed.
Speaking of which, it comes as a great disappointment (but of no surprise) that the Jets biggest hole was once again left untouched this offseason. It's become blatantly obvious to many that the Jets simply will not succeed with Ondrej Pavelec in net and yet the franchise decided against using either of their compliance buyouts and Chevy has already publicly stated that Pavelec is the starter going into camp. Yay.
The cherry on top of the ineptitude cake though has to be the extension of Chris Thorburn. For some unexplainable reason Kevin Cheveldayoff saw enough in a "fighter" (who can barely hold his own against the most mediocre of opponents) to extend him for another three years at $1.2 million a year. Regardless of the positives, the Jets inability to replace Pavelec and their choice to keep Thorburn around makes it very difficult to get excited about any other moves.
2) I guess you're a part of the Winnipeg media, but I don't count you as part of the 'Winnipeg Media.' As such, I've gotta ask. What's the deal with poor Evander Kane?
Ohh Evander. I'd love to give you an exact answer here, but I really don't think anybody really knows what's going on. There have been certain individuals in the Winnipeg media that seem to have personal vendettas against the guy, and I think he takes a lot of enjoyment in getting people all riled up.
I'm not sure if he really wants out of the city, but if he did I wouldn't blame him. From the looks of things the Jets are still a few years away from competing for a playoff spot and the guy gets ridiculed for absolutely everything. All this despite the fact that he is an extremely skilled scorer who has been plugged beside some less-than-ideal line mates during his tenure here. I hope things turn out for the best and he can remain a Jet for a long time, but I get this feeling that this is going to turn out like the Seguin situation in Boston. [edit: Now that you mention it...]
3) Following the Texas Stars-St. John's IceCaps Calder Cup Final series was a useful way to prolong the hockey season for many of us Dallas fans, and as a result a number of Stars' prospects have become a lot more familiar, even to the average fan. Was there a similar thing in Winnipeg? And is there a solid youth movement knocking on the door?
There was definitely a little bit of a "coming out" party for a few key Jets prospects here in Winnipeg. Mainly, Eric O'Dell (a player who has received much fanfare since his brief time with the Jets last season), Michael Hutchinson (the man who many are now praying can step in and steal the starting job from Pavelec), and Josh Morrissey (the Jets first round pick from last year). The main difference between the Ice Caps and Stars that I fear many people in Winnipeg fail to recognize though is how heavily the Caps leaned on their veteran guys up front. Most of the youth on that Ice Caps squad was slotted in deeper down the lineup, in third and fourth line roles, which in my opinion puts a pretty strong cap on the idea of a "youth movement" taking over here. Sure, the experience will pay off and a lot of these younger guys should be able to learn from the vets, but I caution any Jets fan that expects the success of the Ice Caps this year to translate into success with the big club. The Stars on the other hand... let's just say I'm not looking forward to being in the Central Division with that franchise moving forward.
4) Below this article I'm going to put a poll for readers to predict where they think the Jets will finish in the Division standings. If you had to respond, where would you place them, 6th or 7th?
Sadly, as long as Ondrej Pavelec remains the starting goaltender for this team and the holes on the blue line remain unaddressed, I project the Jets to finish dead last in the Central. In fact, I think they will be in the bottom five in the league this season—which is unfortunate because players such as Bryan Little, Micheal Frolik and Blake Wheeler really deserve better. Who knows though, maybe Connor McDavid is the answer?