Jets, Moose and the common denominator

The Winnipeg Jets, holding the deed to the Central Division basement for some time now, are in a position where they are closer to the bottom of the NHL standings than they are to a postseason berth.

Jets' comeback falls short against Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes centre Jordan Staal scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during the first in Winnipeg on Friday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

This can't be part of the plan, can it?

The Winnipeg Jets, holding the deed to the Central Division basement for some time now, are in a position where they are closer to the bottom of the NHL standings than they are to a postseason berth.

The Manitoba Moose, meanwhile, have just 11 wins in 44 games and are dead last in the American Hockey League. Winless in nine games, the antlered ones are on the verge of dropping right off the face of the Earth: 30th in goals for and 30th in goals against.

Oh, brother. This is not a good look for the hockey operations department.

For the Jets, Friday's 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes at MTS Centre tried to bring a little synergy to the situation.

With the loss, the fifth in the last six games at home, Winnipeg (22-26-3) remains nine points out of a playoff spot and is on the precipice of being tied with the the Columbus Blue Jackets for last place in the overall NHL standings.

Columbus was in Calgary Friday night. A Blue Jackets win and Winnipeg gets the special feeling of watching both the NHL and AHL teams circling the drain.

Here we are in Year 5 of this incarnation of Jets hockey and once again, barring an absolute miracle over the next 31 games, the playoffs seem so far away. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's decision to forgo veteran experience for youth hasn't paid off this season and it can be argued the curious move to keep pending UFAs Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien in contract limbo through this writing has been more of a distraction than anything else.
Carolina Hurricanes' Elias Lindholm (16) gets the puck through the legs of Winnipeg Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson (34) but it goes wide during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. (Canadian Press/John Woods)

The Jets look like a team waiting for something to happen with those two. Friday's first period had all the intensity of waiting for a bus.

On the ice, the club is usually competitive when playing at even-strength. But, and this is a big but, this roster continues to be an undisciplined mess under head coach Paul Maurice's command (the Jets have taken a league-high 216 minor penalties) and the special teams have been a train wreck.

That Maurice, who has 83 regular season wins in 167 games behind the Jets bench, hasn't been able to get through to this group regarding the penalty/special teams situation is telling — for both the players and the head coach.

Regarding the Moose, the plan there is anyone's guess: feed the young players and inexperienced prospects, those not deemed worthy of NHL protection, to the wolves and hope they survive. The thin veteran component has failed to provide any shelter for a variety of reasons and now, as the losing reaches laughable proportions, questions are being asked on whether a disservice is being done to the mid-level organizational depth.

Moose head coach Keith McCambridge has less than Maurice to work with, so feel free to use any free pass you wish to use on him. He probably could use a hug, too.

So let's ask the question: with two last place teams playing in the same barn in the same city, both struggling to find their way after five years under the True North watch, who should be held accountable? This isn't just bad luck or a series of unfortunate events.

The players? They only bring so much to the table in terms of skill and ability, and it's up to the coaches to put them in a framework where success is an available option. There are young bright spots, yes, but are there enough of them — at either the Jets or Moose level — for coaches to work with?

The question falls to Cheveldayoff.

He's the architect here; there's no fall guy dressed up as Don Waddell anymore and blaming Atlanta is well past the expiration date. And while "the future is bright" is the default defence in any conversation about the Jets, there is no denying the increased urgency to see some results in the present.

It's been five years, after all.

The club is actively hustling tickets now.

They've had two home playoff gates since being back — surely ownership must notice this, right?

The Jets are in danger of missing the playoffs and the media partners are once again peddling the future.

"It's a process," is a popular phrase from Cheveldayoff when the discussion of his roster comes up. Reading between the words of that tired line is an obvious request for patience, but how much more patience does the market have in them? 

Five years is a long time in professional hockey.


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