It's time the Winnipeg Jets think about shuffling their roster, rid themselves of what they don't need and add what they do. And right now, that's experience.
Never was this truer than Tuesday night when the Winnipeg Jets had their rear ends handed to them in a 4-1 shellacking to a banged up Florida Panthers team.
Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel had little to offer media about his team's effort following the game.
"You have a chance to build on some things and then you fall up short," commented Noel. "What does that say about what you've got?"
The answer: an inexperienced team who collectively cannot find ways to win. How else can you explain a loss to a team who had eight of its regulars sidelined?
"We never paid the price to win, and we're not good enough to win easy, that's clear," said Noel.
"We never even drew a penalty. I mean how do you go through a game and not draw a penalty? That usually comes from your work ethic or your battle level."
The loss to Florida was more than just a series of bad breaks or a lackluster effort. It was a clear indication this team doesn’t understand the beauty of a post-season or what it takes to get there. On Tuesday night, the Florida Panthers did.
Despite missing four of their top six defencemen, two veteran forwards and a number one goalie, Florida rose to the occasion against a Jets team who only a week ago were playing their best hockey.
The Jets dreary degree of "battle" this season is the result of a team with a combined 237 games of playoff experience. More than half of that number can be credited to three players: captain, Andrew Ladd (53), Kyle Wellwood (40) and Dustin Byfuglien (29).
Fourteen players on the Jets have never been part of more than an 82-game season.
The Florida roster that took the ice Tuesday night had 315 playoff games under their belt. The eight players that sat out combined for an additional 231. That’s a total of 546 post-season games, more than double the experience of the Jets locker room.
It's easy to dismiss these as simple numbers, not indicative to how a team performs. Florida is dead last in the eastern conference, so playoff experience isn't a direct determinant of how a team performs in the now.
But it's nearing the halfway point of this shortened season, and teams are beginning to show their true colours. Five points separate the basement in the east and the final playoff spot. The race to make the playoffs is still on every team’s radar.
And that’s where experience is key. The playoffs are long. They're mentally and physically exhausting.
At this point in the season, it’s the experience of players who have been there with everything on the line who are the most important guys in the dressing room.
They provide inspiration and give confidence to a locker room. Their presence can offer a sense of calmness through a season’s rough patches. It’s the most important aspect of a player’s value, and it doesn’t show up on the score sheet.
They’re guys you want to battle for.
Over the next couple of weeks the Jets front office will be taking a long look around the dressing room to determine who they want to go to battle with.
At the end of this year, whether they reach the playoffs or not, 15 players will be up for new contracts. That experience will be top of mind in the building plan moving forward.
For now, it’s about getting a young, inexperienced team to buy into a program that doesn’t promise glory. Glory comes to players who earn it, and for the Jets, there’s still much work to be done.