Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Trees Will Burn

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser

Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

I know what you’re thinking; Where the hell have you been?

Well dear reader, I’ve been wallowing in the tar pit of NHL fan despondency. You see, since the Jets were unceremoniously ousted from the play-off race last season, I fell into a post season funk, and then into a full on lock-out depression. As grey clouds grew dark and later turned into a maelstrom of recriminations, lies, and bitterness, I helplessly watched the league start the process of tearing itself apart. Writing about the lockout seemed pointless and writing about anything else involving the NHL seemed foolish. So I watched.

As I watched, I read the expressions of angst and fear from fans in all corners of the NHL nation. With every passing day optimism has been replaced by bitterness and in some places a callous indifference that will in effect end hockey in those markets when or if the NHL resumes play. Again a wordy blog spraying frustration on the page seemed unnecessary, but now as we hurtle towards the end game a new fear has crept into my reasoning, a fear that even the most hardened sports hack dare not entertain. What if we don’t make it out alive?

As a Canadian I’m acutely familiar with the life cycles of our great forests. Tree’s take root, multiply, overcrowd the forest and then during the course of time a lightning strike ignites tinder and the forest burns. The ash fertilizes the soil and trees take root once again. It’s an incredibly violent process towards the end as the forest decimates itself and its inhabitants with fires hot enough to level everything in their wake. It’s a metaphor that NHL fans should heed.

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned in the run up to the latest of NHL labour disaster, it’s that the league itself is broken economically. As per Forbes (whose numbers I don’t necessarily trust) and others, three quarters of the leagues revenues are generated by three teams: Toronto, New York, and Montreal. Clubs in the middle of the pack either tread water, or manage to make a couple of bucks depending on if they make playoff revenue. Even the much ballyhooed Canadian clubs (excluding Toronto and Montreal) make modest profits at best. This in itself would seem to be a troubling model with so much revenue concentrated in so few markets, but then on top of everything else we have to consider the weak sisters of the great expansion.

The bottom tier clubs of the great expansionist dream have effectively become immense swirling vortexes of red ink. The great expansion of the nineties was predicated on the doctrine; if we build it the national TV deal will come, but as we all know neither the crowds nor the major networks really bought into hockey as an all American sport. In most cases it was viewed as glorified roller derby and shoved to the backwater of the American consciousness. In order to keep the dream alive (and the commissioners job intact), intricate Ponzi schemes of municipal subsidies, NHL revenue sharing and shady ownership groups have been constructed. Sadly though as subsidies fall away, new owners have suddenly become hard to find and NHL revenue sharing is barely keeping the scheme intact. The forest that is the NHL has become overcrowded.

The state of the weak sisters is the elephant in the room at the NHL/NHLPA labour negotiations. Both know that as the great expansionist Ponzi scheme falls apart there’ll be less sponsor revenue to carve up, and fewer NHL jobs to go around. It puts the NHLPA in the precarious spot of wanting to call out the NHL on its failed Sunbelt projects while on the flip side also wanting to protect the jobs of the membership that they represent. So of course the NHPLA plays the only card that’s left in its deck. The NHLPA asserts that the league should expand the Revenue sharing program to prop up the weak sisters. Why not? It’s no skin off their teeth to try and keep the Ponzi scheme afloat with ownership money. The owners for their part are already chafed that they have to write big fat cheques to maintain the illusion that the NHL is a Trans North American major league (which it is not). And so the two are in an intractable dance fighting over a salary cap that is supposed to solve everyone’s problems by helping the weak sisters not lose AS much money as they have previously, which in turn will make the whole Ponzi scheme easier to prop up. You can almost feel the forest floor becoming tinder dry during this particularly hot summer.

There are however a group of owners, some mid-tier, some big market, that are quietly questioning the prevailing wisdom. They contend that their clubs do just fine, or at least well enough to survive under the current conditions. They also question the viability of seeking the elusive prestige of maintaining appearances in the so called non-traditional markets. With the weak sisters relocated or allowed to fail, the economics fall more into line (although not perfectly) and suddenly allowing a generous salary cap doesn’t seem so bad, especially if it maintains labour peace.

Unfortunately this group remains on the outside fringes of the all-powerful NHL executive committee, which has fully and completely bought into the Bettman-McNall doctrine of the nineties, which concludes that they must become the next NBA and conquer the whole of the US. They are determined to keep the entire scheme afloat, because with just a few more years they feel hockey will finally “catch on” in places like Tampa Bay, Phoenix, and Columbus and on that day the major networks will open their vaults and start a bidding war for NHL rights. These are the same people that seriously considered placing a club in Las Vegas! The thunder clouds have definitely gathered and the first flashes of lightening have begun to spread across the sky as the NHL executive committee runs the league from their own alternate universe.

So as the storm rages, what lies ahead? My guess is that lightning will strike.

Bettman has been characterized as ego driven, however I believe he’s more driven by his misplaced faith in his failed designs for the NHL. He has convinced powerful people to hang in there, but the outcomes are not happening and sooner or later those people are going to demand a change. What better distraction than a labour war to keep the executive committee looking at the shiny thing over here while Bettman desperately tries to keep his vision for the league intact over there. Indeed he has a perfectly willing accomplice in the form of Donald Fehr who himself knows the real problems facing the league and would love nothing better than to force the owners to prop it up on their own dime while keeping more players on the union rolls.

The players of course are the unwitting rubes in our current drama. They’ve been losing money every second since the NHL regular season was supposed to start. With a limited earning shelf life they’re becoming desperate to see a resolution, but not so desperate as accept the leagues formula to “make whole” current contracts. They have capitulated to the fifty percent salary cap but insist on having contracts honored from the owners side of the revenue sheet. Their backs are now against the wall and they’ll ignite the fire when they choose the decertification option. Chaos will reign supreme as they try to decertify in five provinces and federally in the USA. They will also need to launch anti-trust suits in each of those jurisdictions. The flames will truly start to consume the forest as the process goes on into uncharted territory and the owners will suddenly realize that in an ironic twist of fate the NHLPA exists for their benefit more than anyone else’s.  Don Fehr will finally be able to add “broke a major pro sports league” to his resume, and the fire will rage.

I’m not really sure if the NHL will survive the inferno. The dissident NHL governors may form an executive coup d'etat, or the hardline Bettman cabal may continue to rule through the league’s demise. The players may break and succumb to the owner’s demands, or decertification may actually take hold and hockey will be governed by vastly different rules, but don’t think for one second it will be the bluff it was in the NFL and NBA. In the end after the flames have been extinguished, we may eventually see green shoots in the left over ash as a new league establishes itself or at least a new arrangement of the NHL. However this plays out, both sides will be sharing pieces of a much smaller revenue pie as the violent upheaval will have swept away the interest of the casual fan and shaken the fortitude of the die-hards. Only one thing is for sure: when the firestorm starts, the trees will burn and nothing will look the same afterwards.

UPDATE: I held back in publishing this Blog for five days as it appeared the moderates among the NHL board of governors had been allowed to make one final push for labor peace. As I write this the players have chosen a different path, and have thrown a match on the forest floor.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Great Team Robbery

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser

Edited by: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

The following story is a tale suited perfectly for a Blog. I can’t prove any of it, and for the most part its educated speculation. It comes from years of following one story and reading between the lines of the various comments, news stories, and press releases. This is the story of the Phoenix Coyotes, specifically over the course of the last year, and more specifically dealing with the mechanics and motivations of what has come to be known as the Jamison bid, or as I like to call it, The Great Team Robbery .

So let’s backtrack almost a year to last summer. Matthew Hulsizer and the city of Glendale Arizona had watched their deal for team ownership and Arena stewardship disintegrate under the continued threat of civil action by the right wing think tank the Goldwater Institute (GWI).  The deal entailed a heavy subsidy for Hulsizer in the form of payment for parking rights at the city owned arena and an inflated arena management fee. The city would issue a bond to pay for the whole scheme and the Coyotes would stay in Glendale allowing the city to reap tax dollars from the activity generated by the team. Of course the GWI threats scared away bond investors and the rest is history. Hulsizer walked away and the team again was an orphaned ward of the NHL living from the good graces of the owners and the city of Glendale who had agreed to cover some losses.

Now I know what you’re thinking reader: not another rehash of the whole Phoenix situation, please I’d rather have multiple root canals. I know but just bear with me, I’m getting to something, really. So after that entire debacle there are a couple of questions that I and several others were asking; Who would ever want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in such an obvious farce, and why? Enter Greg Jamison, and the Jamison group.

Greg Jamison is a minority stake holder in the San Jose Sharks hockey organization and a former CEO of the team. From all accounts he is a savvy sports executive who has a reputation for his creative approach to deal making and sports management. In the fall of 2011 Jamison’s name began to surface as a possible suitor to take on the problem of the Phoenix Coyotes. At that time however several reports said that Jamison was lacking the necessary financial backing and was indeed having trouble attracting investors to the potential ownership group. Even though it was widely reported that the Jamison group was shaky, they became the front runner in the Coyotes ownership tale. And so it went for months until in the spring of 2012 when the Jamison Group suddenly began to become more prominent in the ownership discussion. It appeared that the group may have found the financial backing necessary to start serious negotiations with city of Glendale and the NHL. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman even presented Jamison to reporters during an ownership update and reported that the framework of a deal was in place.

So why the sudden infusion of capital? And how did they ever think that the Phoenix Coyotes could become a viable business? This is where we dive into the world of speculation pieced together from scraps of information that have leaked out over the last few months. Enter Jim Treliving, the famous entrepreneur and owner of the successful Canadian restaurant franchise Boston Pizza. Treliving joined the group on the condition of anonymity and would provide a large amount of needed capital along with connections needed to implement a unique plan put forward by Jamison.

The plan was to push the City of Glendale and the NHL to the brink of disaster (regarding the Coyotes) and then insist on demands that would include a four year out clause along with a generous subsidy to run arena. In Jamisons ongoing negotiations he had already probed the idea of a four year out clause and found that although there was hostility towards the idea, it had not been rejected out of hand. The out clause was the key to a plan that would justify the outlay of hundreds of millions. The real goal of the plan would be to move the franchise to the hockey hotbed of Markham, Ontario after four years had expired.
Treliving and Jamison both had connections to a group that was planning and had, in the interim, gained approval to build a modern arena venue in the Toronto suburb of Markham. A team in Markham would put an NHL franchise in the long time and wildly underserved hockey market of southern Ontario. The franchise would immediately jump from a $170 million dollar club to a club worth well over $500 million simply due to its geography.

The deal demanded of the COG would also subsidize the yearly losses through a 17 million dollar arena management fee. This was a deal that put the NHL and the city of Glendale over a pretty steep barrel and the mayor for her part was ready to have nothing to do with it. In April she openly railed against everyone involved, including the NHL, and proposed the council look at life after hockey. The city manager Ed Beasley and a majority of city council however where determined to buy time with whatever means possible and are, at the time of this writing, preparing a budget with 17 million dollars earmarked for arena management.

So why take on a team that loses $35 million plus a season even if it is only for four years? Well for starters the loss never need be that big. The new ownership would simply gut the team, running at the cap floor and cutting all other expenditures. The new ownership group could theoretically slash losses from $35 million a year to under $10 million a year with the help of a Glendale subsidy. The ownership could also trade away costly assets in exchange for valuable draft picks that would prepare the team for their eventual arrival in Ontario. The looming lockout plays into this plan even more, allowing the new owners to save on salaries as well as giving it time to slowly dismantle the front office. Total cost to implement the scheme would be about 200 to 220 million dollars, which as we all know would be a bargain price to pay for a second Toronto franchise.

But it’s not going to happen.

The key to the great team robbery was to keep Trelivings name outside of the discussion. In late May several stories surfaced that Jim Treliving was interested in purchasing the Phoenix Coyotes. His name at that time was not linked with Jamison, and he urgently denied stories, but the damage had already been done. The exposure of his name in relation to the Phoenix situation signaled the true intention of the group to all involved; it would also create a significant amount of blowback to Trelivings Canadian business operations if he were identified as a roadblock in the way of seeing a team return to Quebec City, not to mention also incurring the wrath of Quebecor. Last week radio station The FAN590 reported that Treliving had been a part of the Jamison group and had subsequently pulled his support.

And so ends the attempt at one of the greatest heists in sports history. Whether the NHL or the City of Glendale would have caved to the four year out clause is still debatable, although there were indications that they would have. It’s also debatable whether the Board of Governors would have allowed the move to Markham after the four years in Phoenix, although it’s not inconceivable that it may have been a pre-arranged payoff for taking on the Yotes. It would have been a massive crime against the residents of Glendale and probably in the end would have bankrupted their small city. Of course the GWI would have sued, but it’s unlikely that they would have been able to obtain injuctive relief which would have stopped the sale, and instead would be forced to go through years of litigation and ultimately would have been seeking damages from an empty Phoenix shell corp.

It was a brilliant and evil plan that may have worked (although it still faced hurdles) and now for all intents and purposes it has been derailed. Will Jamison come back with another investor? Who knows? Will the team stay in Phoenix long term if he does? No way. The simple fact of the matter is that NHL hockey doesn’t work in Phoenix, and it never will. The only long term future for the Phoenix Coyotes franchise is unfortunately, outside of Phoenix.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chipman & The Deuce

BY: Mikey "The Deuce" Bailey

Looking back at the year that was the inaugural season of the Winnipeg Jets, I’m surprised to find that I’m not lamenting the late-season letdown that led us out of the playoff hunt all too soon.  Instead, I’m enjoying the playoffs, thinking about the 2012 draft, and recalling some of the highlights of the 2011-12 season.  So many of those highlights featured the humble presence of our owner Mark Chipman that I’m sure a Pavlovian smile comes to the face of every Winnipegger when they see him.

Now, I’ve never met Mark Chipman in person but would love to have the opportunity to sit down and toast both the Moose and the Jets with him, followed up by a Q&A custom-tailored as I saw fit.  Knowing my chances of having that opportunity are roughly the same as my starting at halfback for the Bombers, the next best thing I can think of is considering how he might answer some of my questions.
So, to that end, here is a completely fictional interview between myself and the owner and Chairman of the Winnipeg Jets, Mark Chipman:

Mikey ‘The Deuce’ (MTD):  So Mark, it’s been a year to remember.  Do any moments stand out more than others?

Mark Chipman (MC):  Gosh, there’s been so many wonderful memories that it would be hard to pick just one.  Making the announcement that we had purchased the team, unveiling the team name, the jersey, the home opener.  One moment that stands out was at 12:17 on June 4th when we confirmed that our Drive to 13,000 was successful.  It was a validating moment and does stand out.

MTD:  Were you concerned that the Drive to 13,000 wouldn’t be successful?

MC:  Not ‘strongly concerned’ but whenever you undertake something of this magnitude you can’t help but have niggling doubts in the back of your mind.  Risk management in business means having avenues ready if things don’t go according to plan, but in this case we didn’t have a ‘Plan B’ if we only sold 8,000 or 9,000 season tickets.  Looking back I now know that we had nothing to worry about but at the time all the market research reports in the world couldn’t give me the peace of mind I got at 12:17 that day.

MTD:  I’m glad you mentioned ‘looking back’.  When you look back now over the last few years is there anything you would have done differently?

MC:  Well, to answer your question fully, I’d have to talk about two different categories.  Those things that I would have done differently and those things that I would have wanted to do differently but couldn’t for one reason or another.

MTD:   One thing I’ve always wanted to discuss with you was the capacity of the MTS Centre.  There are persistent rumours floating around Winnipeg saying that you originally wanted a 12,000 seat arena which would have suited the AHL Moose perfectly, but would have precluded any discussion of the NHL’s return and that only at the insistence of then-Mayor Glen Murray did you agree to an arena that had the capacity to host an NHL team.  Any truth to that?

MC:  No, at least not any substantive truth.  We canvassed a number of ideas and proposals and some of them had that smaller capacity but we took them off the table pretty quickly.  Like I told Macleans when they published their ‘Winnipeg Jets Return’ edition, as far back as 2000 we were cognisant that an opportunity to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg may present itself and we wanted to be ready if that opportunity did indeed present itself.

MTD:  Speaking of arena capacity, if you could go back to 2000, knowing what you know now, would you have built the MTS Centre with another 3,000 seats?

MC:  We likely would have, but not for the reasons you’re probably thinking of.  We’ve always maintained that those last 3,000 seats are the most costly to add but bring in the least revenue so from a purely business standpoint the return on investment and payback period don’t justify incurring those added costs.  But so many Jets fans are unable to get tickets at any price that I’d be happy to have another 3,000 seats for those fans.  For every fan I speak with who tells me how happy they are to have season tickets I have four or five who tell me how badly they wanted tickets but couldn’t get them.  I’d love to be able to have more tickets for those fans.  Not because of the revenue they’d generate but just so more hockey fans could share in the experience.

MTD:  The ‘Drive to 13,000’ process wasn’t without its detractors.  Anything you’d do different there?

MC:  We felt strongly that Moose season ticket holders should have been rewarded for supporting our organization and I have no regrets giving them first crack at season tickets.  That said, we canvassed a number of ways to recognize that loyalty and went with the one that we felt was fairest.  Another plan we considered was simply letting Moose season ticket holders have first rights to their Moose seats but with the many mini-pack and half-season ticket holders out there the seat allocation process became too messy.  I know there were a few loopholes that some people took advantage of but these instances were rare.

MTD:  Loopholes?

MC:  Well, there’s a report of one couple where both he and she had a single nine-game Moose mini-pack in their personal names, and a second single nine-game Moose mini-pack in their business names.  Since each seat was a separate account and each account was allowed four Jets season tickets this couple was able to parlay their four Moose nine-game packs into sixteen Jets season tickets.  But instances like this were very rare.

MTD:  The True North staff, and you yourself, talked about how much you had to do during the summer of 2011 to prepare for the NHL’s return.  Looking back, can you see any way you could have spread the workload over a few months leading up to the summer of 2011?

MC:  So much of the work that needed to be done was centered on the team name and we couldn’t move forward with things like logo and jersey design, merchandising, and even marketing plans without knowing the team name.  And without a team, we certainly couldn’t name a team that we didn’t have!

MTD:  Well, you’ve confirmed that you were offered the Coyotes as far back as 2010.  Even though that fell through you must have been confident that Winnipeg was next in line for an NHL team.  In reality, True North didn’t have five months to get some of these things done, they had 17 months.  Would it have been possible for True North to start planning back in the summer of 2010?  Have the logo design done under the guise of a Moose ‘Military Night’ edition to keep things quiet?

MC:  That assumes we were going with a “Jets” name and that was far from certain back then.  We had a lot of pressure from those inside the organization who wanted to keep the Moose name and looking back I was maybe a little too insulated from what the public would feel on the issue.  I kept getting people in my inner circle telling me ‘It’ll work; they just want an NHL team regardless of the name”.  One of the biggest surprises to me was just how passionate Winnipeggers were about that Jets name.  A friend of mine who ran a fan forum put out the idea that we wouldn’t go with a Jets name and the feedback from his forum was pretty negative but it didn’t prepare me for the passionate plea the fans came out with once we had confirmed the team purchase.

MTD:  You said before there were “two different categories.  Those things that I would have done differently and those things that I would have wanted to do differently but couldn’t for one reason or another.”  What are some of the things you would to have liked to do differently but couldn’t?

MC:  The secrecy surrounding everything we were doing became very hard to maintain.  No matter how tightly you try to run things a little tidbit slips out here and there and before you know it everyone in town knew someone inside True North who told them ‘the Jets are coming back’.  I was confident that we’d have a team but we obviously couldn’t confirm anything or comment on it until the NHL gave its blessing.   We’d send Scott Brown out to the media telling him to ‘deny, deny, deny’ but it started reminding us of the old Soviet Propaganda Ministers who would do their broadcasts saying how great everything was in the Soviet Union while it crumbled around them.  It got to the point that whenever I’d see Scott on TV I’d start hearing his voice change to that of Officer Barbrady of South Park.  “Move along people, nothing to see here...”

MTD:  Given how hard you worked to keep everything under wraps, Stephen Brunt’s reporting of a deal being done on May 19th must have created some panic.  Can you recall that night?

MC:  I certainly can!  I remember hearing the news while I was at a fundraising dinner and started receiving congratulations and handshakes for something that I didn’t know happened, and actually had not happened yet.  Looking back I can get a laugh but at the time I remember trying to drive through Portage and Main and being blocked in by people celebrating.

MTD:  Just out of pure luck, Gary Bettman, who was taking in a game when Brunt’s report hit, was captured on TV as he was reading the breaking news on his Blackberry.  Can you recall his reaction?

MC:  Very much so.  He called me right as we were stuck at Portage and Main and I recall him asking “Do you know that someone broke the news?  Do you know I’m receiving text messages about this?”  I remember saying:”You’re receiving texts?  Oh my.  Here I am at midnight, stuck at Canada’s windiest corner surrounded by thousands of hockey fans cheering ‘Go Jets Go’, there’s an impromptu hockey game that’s broken out in the street, and Santa Claus has donned his vintage Teemu Selanne jersey and is dancing with a replica Stanley Cup on his Harley to the catchy sounds of Van Halen’s 1984 hit ‘Jump,’, but you’re receiving texts!  I hope you can deal with the situation Gary because I’m a little tied up right now!”

MTD:  Anything else you wanted to say to Gary that night?

MC:  (laughing) I would have asked for the first preseason game on September 20th to be moved.  I had to miss the first game our team was playing to be in New York for an NHL Board of Governors meeting.

MTD:  Thanks so much Mark for taking the time out to do this.  I’m not planning on shopping this discussion to the Globe and Mail but are you OK if I post it on the Lucky 7 Blog?
MC:  Sure, and thanks for asking me before you just put it out there.

The foregoing interview is a work of fiction and is intended to be used for entertainment purposes only.  Any resemblance to how Mark Chipman would actually answer these questions is purely coincidental.

Monday, March 26, 2012

As Long As I Can See The Light

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

The playoff light both flickered and dimmed over the last 48 hours as the Jets flew into Washington determined to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. They staged a miraculous comeback against the Caps, and then skated through quicksand against the Predators to face a loss that may well have derailed the quest for the promised land permanently.

If we rewind to the beginning of March one has an acute sense of frustration as the Jets were in full control of their destiny. Sitting alone in eighth place and coming off an impressive home stand, the Jets looked as though they might hit another gear and make a mad dash to the finish line. The stage was set and there was a sense of optimism as the Jets embarked on their Smythe Division road trip through Vancouver and Calgary. Unfortunately some ghosts die hard and the Canucks and Flames once again played spoiler to the Jets playoff hopes just as they had many times in the past. It appeared that road phobia had once again come back to hit the Jets where it hurt: The standings.

In my opinion the Smythe road trip was the beginning of what would become a number of key Winnipeg losses over the following two weeks. The Jets went from masters of their own destiny to scoreboard watchers and inconsistent performers. The Jets seemed to develop a pattern of pulling out clutch games against tough opponents and losing games that should have been winnable against teams in the bottom half of the standings. Injuries to key performers of course didn’t help, but there seems to be a real consistency problem on the road that desperately needs to be addressed.

As the Jets flew into Washington on Friday there was an undisputed feeling of desperation. The season was certainly on the line as the Caps could create some crucial distance between themselves and the Jets with a win. Going down three goals in the second period, it appeared as though the Jets had run out of gas. And then we saw what we had seen so many times from the Jets in the past: they simply didn’t give up and gutted their way back to an OT victory. What had seemed like such a clear make or break type of game now muddied the waters with the Jets giving up a point, but gaining two. Could the Jets get back in the hunt against the Preds?

If there’s a kryptonite for the Jets it’s the second half of back to back games on the Proad. Add to that the tight checking defensive style of the Predators and the Jets seemed to be skating in sand. Now I can’t really say that the Preds lived up to the hype we’ve heard all season, but they definitely did what they needed to do against a run and gun Jets team. They slowed the pace and neutralized the top line, leaving the hard working fourth line to shoulder the offence, which came too little too late. A hard road loss is nothing new to the Jets faithful and as the playoff light flickered with the Washington win, it dimmed once again in Nashville.

So now we’re left with the cold hard fact that our playoff chances, although not completely dashed are heading into miracle on ice territory. The Jets basically need six wins out of the seven remaining games, which would put them squarely at 90 points, which might earn them a spot in the post season if their closest rivals run into trouble along the way. To put this into perspective, the Jets haven’t had more than a three game win streak all year, even at home. We’ve basically gone from comfortably sitting in eighth, to hoping for a Jetsmas miracle of epic proportions. As a Jets fan, one can’t help but let a certain amount of frustration seep through.

Taking a quick look at what might have been and what went wrong, it’s pretty simple to understand what happened. The motivation was there, and most nights so was the effort, the Jets just simply ran out. They ran out of talent, they ran out of depth, they ran out of games and they ran out of gas. Even with the seventh man carrying them to the finish line the Jets simply didn’t have what was needed to get to the end.

As the darkness seems to close in and the pundits start to create their checklists of whom to write off for playoff contention, there’s one thing about the Jets to remember. They have this uncanny knack of never giving up. We’ve seen it in big games against big clubs, when the tide was against them; they’ve found ways to gut out wins through sheer determination. Is there any of that left? I would like to believe so, and I’ll continue to believe as long as I can see the light.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do or Die! …But don’t kill yourself.

By Tim "Bones" Bonnar

Tonight’s game, against the Washington Capitals, is worse than a do or die situation. Even with a win the Jets will not control their own destiny and their season very well may die in short order. Call it negative. Call it realistic. It is what it is. The Jets playoff hopes are on life support. It’s disappointing, but it’s also not the end of the world. Truth be told I’ll be perfectly content if the Jets get passed by the Hurricanes (and Ducks) as the season come to a close. One more top shelf draft pick will do a lot for this squad.

As I’ve stated before the cupboards on the farm are relatively bare and I would love to see them restocked. At this point, one of the Jets greatest needs is offence and the system simply isn’t flush with players that project as offensive weapons at the NHL level. There are a number of bottom six grinders in the system and there are some solid two way players in there too, but the system needs help.

All that said, there have been a few pleasant surprises this year. A few players stepped their game up and this will impact how the Jets’ approach the draft and free agency moving forward.  Let’s take a look at some Jets / Jets prospects that out performed expectations this season. This is may seem bleak, but this is “bright side” stuff folks! :)

Bryan Little: Little is still very inconsistent offensively. I’m not sure there’s a streakier player around, but he does everything else a centre should and he does it well. Solid defensive play coupled with solid faceoff ability makes him a very good 2nd line centre on a lot of teams. Coming into this season, nobody would have said face-offs were among Little’s strengths. The improvement on the dots makes this 24 year old immensely more valuable.

Blake Wheeler: Blake got off to a slow start, but once he got rolling he was a freight train. Wheeler found his wheels! He figured out how to make proper use of his speed and size and defenders couldn’t figure out how to stop him. Wheeler still has room to improve his game, but he proved himself to be a legit 1st line talent. He made Little and Ladd look better.

Zach Bogosian: In my opinion Zach is still a project, but he’s a project with far less question marks. Bogo has found some balance and some control in his game and looks poised to take a big step forward in the coming years. He is not yet a shutdown D man, but it seems he has it in him.

Spencer Machacek: Spencer has seen very limited action in Winnipeg, but he hasn’t looked out of place at all. He has also been a dominant force for the Ice Cap this season and he led the team in scoring for much of the year. He may never be a game breaker, but in a 3rd or 4th line role he could be very solid. Look for Spencer to start next season in the big.

Carl Klingberg: As a junior Carl was often credited for his offensive upside, but until this year it hadn’t materialized on the ice. Much of his slowed output was to do with circumstance and coaching, these weren’t issues this year and it showed. It was great to see him finally put some numbers up. Klingberg may need another season before he becomes a regular NHLer, but he looks like a fun third line winger.

Ivan Telegin: The Russian Roadrunner battled through some early season injuries and exploded with offence late in the season. Lining up next to Scheifele surely didn’t hurt his production, but he actually managed to out produce his linemate down the stretch. Last season Telegin put up 20 Goals, 41 Apples and 61 points last season. This year he put up 35 Goals, 29 Assists and 64 points, but he did so in 13 fewer games. While I suspect TNSE will ship Ivan out to the coast for a year before he joins the Jets, I am hopeful that he can slot into a 2nd line role in a couple years.

Whether the Jets win tonight of not, we have a lot to look forward to.

For starters, we still have NHL hockey back in flippin Winnipeg! As fans we’ve been treated to a very exciting season full of highs and lows. We also witnessed fast paced, exciting hockey and number of highlight reel saves. The fact that the games have all mattered until this point is a major win. The team rewarded the fans with a ton of wins on home ice, the core players are still young, the future is still bright and we will in all likelihood be watching home playoff games before Leafs fans. Win or lose, keep your head up!

Go Jets Go!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Closing The Loop

In October I asked a few of my close ROTJ comrades to contribute their thoughts and feelings as the doors opened at the MTSC for the first time.  I wanted to record a historic moment through the eyes of real fans, hopefully getting a genuinely qualified account of the biggest sports story of my era.  But I had a secret agenda. I myself needed to somehow feel connected to the return of the Jets and I drank up the words that came out of those descriptions with a thirst for what it must be like to be there, what it must be like to finally close the circle and cheer for your team once again.

Reading their descriptions, watching on television and checking the standings daily, I felt a sort of wicked jealousy of those who had the privilege of chanting 'Go Jets Go' at the top of their lungs. The MTSC has quickly gained a reputation as the hardest away visit in sports, likened by some players as: “A trip to the in-laws. You don’t want to go but you have to”.  Somehow yelling 'Go Jets Go' in front of the TV with a few buddies, 2000 kilometres away, doesn’t have the same effect. So here I sit, a member of the Jets Foreign Legion watching from afar and waiting, just like thousands of others, for the chance to scream 'Go Jets Go' at a rink with two points on the line. On Thursday March 8, 2012 I and an estimated five thousand other members of the Jets Foreign Legion got that chance.

Now I usually can’t stand it when Leafs and Habs fans show up at rinks outside of Toronto and Montreal, but for this occasion I had to bite the bullet and transform myself into “That Guy” in a Jets uniform. As I got ready to head to the rink I girded myself for a rough ride in the stands. I had seen Chicago and Boston fans suffer slings and arrows walking through the concourse of Rogers arena and I fully expected the same reception. I got to the rink early and was surprised to find a battalion of backup. Jets jerseys were actually, at that point outnumbering Canucks jerseys and there was an air of solidarity as knowing nods, high fives and thumbs up where exchanged. Even the enemy seemed to recognize the special day as Canucks fans acknowledged our presence with knowing smiles and best wishes.  

Entering the rink it was clear that Jets nation was out in force. There was a sea of Jets jerseys new and old filing into the halls of Rogers Arena anxiously waiting just as I was to see a Jets team take to the ice once again after a long 15 year winter of discontent. The warm ups began and the ostentatious production at Rogers arena started. The music was loud and the big screen was distracting, but as the players took the ice I could hear the faint rumblings of a “Go Jets Go”. I sat in the stands chomping down a White Spot burger and training my steely analytical eye towards the Jets end trying to get a glimpse of the all important Noelian battle strategy.  Pavs looked ready to go and after some hasty drills the team left the ice making way for the overly lavish Canucks pre-game production to begin. After a lot of bells and whistles I turned to my buddy and said “Can we just play some hockey already”, he looked back with the knowing nod of a prairie hockey fan.

It was now GO time for Winnipeg fans, the crowd rose to their feet for the singing of the national anthem. Could the Jets Foreign Legion pull off a True North shoutout in enemy territory? The pivotal time came …. With glowing hearts we see the rise…. TRUE NORTH! The building shook as Canucks fans looked around bewildered at what had just happened. They had received their first taste of Jets fanaticism and it would be followed up in short order.

Face off time, and as the crowd noise rose to a crescendo, as if by cue, a faint 'Go Jets Go' from section 120 grew into a hurricane of 'Go Jets Go's that swept through Rogers arena. The Jets where indeed back and everyone in that rink was going to know about it. The Canucks came out hard, gaining the zone with speed, and the Jets responded with a tight checking, attack oriented, physical game - in other words Winnipeg Jet hockey. 'Go Jets Go' chants rose unabated all through those first minutes and then finally the crowd settled in to watch the game.

The Canucks struck first when a puck ricocheted off referee Davorski's skate and right into the slot allowing Bieksa to beat Pavalec five hole. It was a lucky goal and again Jets nation responded with a cannonading 'Go Jets Go' chant.  Shortly after, Kyle Wellwood responded and the Jets were on the board. We left the second period feeling as though we had achieved a small victory with an even up score. The third period saw Vancouver fans finally react, sensing that the game was probably theirs to lose. They were silenced by big Blake Wheeler and it looked for a brief moment like the Jets might steal a victory from a skilled Vancouver club. The 'Go Jets Go' chants continued to drown out the feeble Canucks chants, and hope was in the air. However sometimes you can’t outrun skill, and the Canucks managed to put two past a weary Pavelec to win the game.

There was only a touch of disappointment as I rose from my chair at the sound of the final buzzer. The Jets had played one of the premier clubs in the league hard on their home ice and had almost snatched away a victory. More importantly I could join my brothers and sisters in a 'Go Jets Go' chant, shout out TRUE NORTH, and wear my colours with pride into enemy territory. Jets fans this night had carved out a little piece of the MTSC on False Creek and showed West Coast hockey observers how to be fans.

So now as I write, I can cast away my envy and look forward to another Smythe Division road trip, when once again the Jets Foreign Legion will descend on Rogers arena. The loop has now closed, and the circle is complete. I have new heroes and they have heard my cheers.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Trade Bait 3: The Trade Winds Are Blowing

By: Tim "Bones" Bonnar

The trade winds are blowing. We have already seen a few moves, the most recent of which makes Jeff Carter a King. The Jets have been quiet so far, but that doesn’t mean any of our pending UFAs are out of the woods. Let’s continue our look at players who may or may not move at the deadline. This time we will look at defense and goaltending.

Pending UFAs:

Johnny Oduya – Oduya is probably the Jets’ most moveable player at the deadline. He has had some major highs and lows this season, but he’s settled in as a very solid bottom pairing defenseman.  Oduya is a very smooth skater and while he doesn’t score at an elite level, he is a solid puck mover. He has also been arguably the Jets most effective penalty killer.

Defensemen have been a hot commodity at the deadline and Oduya could spark the interest of a couple teams. That said, Johnny isn’t the typical deadline D man. Most teams look to add either an offensive defenseman or a large physical presence the will help them grind in the playoffs. Oduya doesn’t quite fit either of those descriptions, which will limit the market and thus limit his value.

Will the Jets resign Johnny Oduya? Realistically, I can’t see it happening. I have nothing against Johnny Oduya, I like his game, but he’s overpaid and the Jets have a number of prospects that they would like to give a shot in the bigs. Short term, Mark Flood or Randy Jones would be the most likely to fill in, but next season is anybody’s guess. Paul Postma and Zach Redmond were both AHL All Stars this season. Additionally Arturs Kulda and Brett Festerling have spent time playing for the Jets and done an admirable job.

Moving Oduya might represent a small let down for the Jets on ice product, but it wouldn’t be a major drop off. The Jets have shown the ability to weather losses of their big three defensemen, they surely could survive the loss of a bottom pairing player. The Jets have proven they have multiple players capable of stepping up and doing a good job.  If a team is willing to send the Jets a 2nd round pick in exchange for Oduya’s services, I think they have to take it.

Randy Jones - Jones is firmly entrenched as the Jets 7th defenseman, but he is also a pending UFA. Jones is a serviceable and versatile player. He has good size and he can play in all situations. That said Jones isn’t the kind of player that a playoff team would add to bolster their top six. If a team made a move to add Jones it would be all about depth.

Will the Jets resign Randy Jones? Jones is in a similar situation to Johnny Oduya. He has played well, but he won’t likely be back with the Jets. The Jets simply have too many players in the pipeline that can fill the 7th defenseman role. If they Jets can land anything in exchange for Jones they will definitely have to consider the possibility.
Mark Flood – Mark Flood is another interesting deadline piece. He has played 29 games for the Jets this season and he has played well in those games. He has also been trusted with a decent amount of playoff time in those games (more that Hainsey or Oduya). I like Flood and I am truthfully not sure what Jones has done to usurp him. Combine that with his tiny tiny contract and he could be a commodity.
Will the Jets resign Mark Flood? Mark has reportedly been told that he should look for a permanent home in Winnipeg, so chances are he won’t be moved at the deadline. You also have to think this means he is part of the Jets long term plans.  I am really curious to see how things play out with Flood, the Jets do have a number of players who will be pushing him for his roster spot. I like his game, but am surprised they aren’t looking at Flood as a movable asset.

Chris Mason – Chris Mason has been an ideal backup goaltender this season. He has been solid if not spectacular in most of his showings and is numbers / win percentage are one par with what Pavi has done. Additionally, Mason really enjoys being a Jet. He was one of the first Thrasher players to vocally support the idea and he is a good locker room guy.  There are a few teams on the playoff bubble that are looking to strengthen their goal tending, could one of them look to the Jets and Mason as their cure? 

Will the Jets resign Chris Mason? I think there is a very good chance that the Jets bring back Mason for the next couple of seasons. Most teams that are looking for goalies are looking for starters. I am not sure anybody will want Mason for that role. Additionally, the Jets don’t have a ready replacement if they move Mason. 

Peter Mannino was called up for one game earlier this season, but he was sent down form the Ice Caps to the ECHL. He is also a pending UFA, he isn’t the answer either short term or long term. Aside from Mannino the Jets have Eddie Pasquale and David Aebischer. Aebesher is an NHL flame out and he is not putting up great AHL numbers. Pasquale is a promising prospect who is probably a year or two away from assuming an NHL backup role. He may eventually replace Chris Mason, but he isn’t ready to do so right now. I am not sure trading Mason would be a wise move.

Non UFAs:

Ron Hainsey – Jets fans are taken aback by Hainsey’s contract and have been holding him to unfair and standard. Yes he is over paid, but he is a solid two way defender. His contract also makes him really hard to move. A playoff team that is looking for a short term rental won’t look at Hainsey. He could however be a prime candidate for a deadline move next season.

Derrick Meech – Meech is a pending UFA, but I didn’t include him in the first grouping because he isn’t a candidate for trade. Injuries have derailed his season and potentially his career. I would like to wish upon him a quick recovery.

Paul Postma/ Brett Festerling / Arturs Kulda / John Negrin – These are all prospects that have been or are considered NHL caliber prospects. Negrin was a recent addition via trade, but the other three have all been called up to the big team this season. They are also pending RFAs. To be clear I don’t believe the Jets will be looking to trade any of these players, they will probably resign them all. That said, if the Jets do make a move to buy a player… one of these three will likely be part of the deal.

What do I think the Jets will do?

I don’t see the Jets being too active in the coming days. If they make any trades, they will likely be for picks or prospects. The most likely player to move is probably Oduya. If they could move him for a second round draft pick, that would be a win for the team. If they could move Oduya and Fehr for a young player that is close to NHL ready, that would be a big win.  Doing nothing wouldn’t be a loss. 

Are you guys ready to hurry up and wait?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Jacobs Ladder

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

As old Jack Burton says: “When some eight foot tall monster backs you up against a wall and asks you if you’ve paid your dues, look that guy straight in the eye and say, ‘ya the cheque is the mail’”. That’s about how I’m feeling lately as the new look February Jets roll through their home stand looking for redemption and that playoff light at the end of the tunnel.

The Jets in January were backed up against that wall and have been grinding their way back out of the hole they dug for themselves ever since. With all of their weapons returning to the ice they have gone from being a struggling club trying to arrest a slide to an up and coming club once again challenging for eighth in the conference and first in the division. They’re climbing the proverbial ladder, in what seems to be a ‘two rungs up, one rung down’ style, proving that when it comes to being a Winnipeg Jet sometimes guts and hard work need to be a substitute for talent.

It also helps that the stars have aligned, cursing our closest competitors with losing streaks of their own that have helped the Jets close the gap. Toronto has fallen ungracefully from sole possession of eighth place and is trying desperately to recover from what seems to be their annual mid season tailspin out of the playoffs. Washington has also has had to contend with a massive implosion that seems to go right to the heart of the team. This leaves us with the improbable Florida Panthers as division leaders in a division that is underwhelming at best.

Due to a sort of play-off wormhole effect, if the Jets where to take the division lead from the Panthers this would vault them into third seed overall in the eastern conference. Many see this shortcut as being the best avenue for the Jets to make the playoffs, and with the Panthers starting to come back down to earth they are probably right. The Jets are currently tied with Florida at 65 points, but the Panthers have three games in hand, which keeps them in top spot. However the Panthers have lost their last three games and are playing sub 500 hockey in February, which makes them potential low hanging fruit if the Jets can keep winning.

Winning of course fixes everything. If the Jets can string together another few wins and their competitors continue to slide, our playoff chances can increase exponentially. So the question now becomes ‘can the Jets continue to win’? The promising news is that a few key players are starting to find their game in Winnipeg. Blake Wheeler looks like a guy who can carry this team on his back, while Evander Kane is starting to look like the pure goal scorer we were all hoping he could be. Of course after Pavelec’s performance against Philadelphia and Mason’s solid performances in backup, goaltending appears to be a foundation from which this team will make its playoff push.

The Achilles heel of the Jets going forward will definitely be defensive zone responsibility. The goaltenders can’t do it all and night after night the Jets end up chasing the opposition around in their own zone. The Jets blue line was constructed to be up in the play and contributing to the offense on a run and gun team, unfortunately defense wins championships and defensemen caught up ice don’t contribute to defense. If the Jets were to do anything at the trade deadline to help push them forward it would be acquiring either A) A first line centre (not going to happen) or B) A journeyman stay-at-home defender. A stay-at-home defender could be a calming influence on the blue line and a valuable quarterback on the power play.

The Jets also desperately need to find a winning formula on the road. The road record is so abysmally bad that I’m not sure that if they made it into the play offs that they would have any chance of winning without finding a way to fix their problems on the road and fix them fast. Again winning goes a long way, as locking down a division title would give the Jets home ice for the first round and likely the second.

So as we come close to the end of January the Jets are once again knocking on the door, just as they were at the end of December. It seems like all is forgiven across Jets nation and the calls to become sellers have diminished. The stretch is officially upon us and the ladder up into post season contention is still fraught with peril, but even though I never officially gave up hope, I definitely have more faith in a playoff appearance than I did 30 days ago.

Remember, for the Jets this year there is no easy stairway to heaven, just a hard climb up Jacobs ladder.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trade Bait 2: Who will stay and who will go?

By: Tim "Bones" Bonnar

The trade deadline is fast approaching and the Jets have put together a nice little run of wins. This run has them on the cusp of the playoffs many people believe that this has changed their plan for the trade deadline, I ‘m not so sure. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has said all along that this team is building for the long term. I don’t think three wins has changed significantly changed his thought process.

Regardless of the Jets current playoff push (and potential run) Chevy already has a good idea who he will and won’t be looking to resign this offseason. As fans we have to remember there are many factors involved in these decisions and on ice performance isn’t the only one. The Jets management team must also consider who’s in the system and how close these players are to NHL ready.

I am of the opinion that the Jets should be sellers at the trade deadline and regardless of any playoff run, I truly believe Chevy is thinking the same way. Don Waddell did a number on this team and the Jets’ prospect pool is terribly shallow at just about every position. The lack of system depth makes me believe that the Jets will and should look at moving a few of their pending UFAs, regardless of any playoff push.

I do believe that Jets will be sellers at the deadline, but I do want to make one thing clear:

Being “sellers” does not mean the Jets are giving up hope on this season.

The Jets won’t be moving the core of the team at the deadline. The Jets will also not be moving players who are part of their long term plans. Let’s take a look at who the Jets may or may not sell at the deadline. First we’ll take a look at the offence.

Pending UFAs:

Jim Slater – Jets fans have fallen in love with Slater. He’s a gritty hard working player and the main cog in the GST line that has become a big time fan favourite. He’s a heart and soul guy, our best faceoff man, an effective penalty killer and has done an excellent job matching up against the opposition’s top players. Nobody wants to see him traded away at the deadline, but it is a possibility.
The same factors that have endeared Jim Slater to Jets fans make him a valuable commodity this time of year. A team looking to add grit, to help their penalty kill or to improve in the faceoff circle could find Slater very appealing. The Tampa Bay lightning recently sent Dominic Moore to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for 2nd and 7th round picks. Jim Slater is a very similar player (albeit with less playoff experience and a little less scoring) and would likely net a similar return.
Will the Jets resign Jim Slater? As much as fans would like to see him stay, Slater may not be part of the Jets long term plan. He’s a pending UFA and unfortunately for him the Jets do have a few players in the system that could step into a similar role. Patrice Cormier projects as a similar player, he’s physical, he plays a two way game, he wins faceoffs and he is close to NHL ready. Aaron Gagnon and Ben Maxwell are other players who could be in play if Slater is moved.  I don’t believe Slater will be traded, but I wouldn’t be surprised or heartbroken if he is.

Tanner Glass -Tanner Glass in another key piece in the Jets very popular GST line. Like Jim Slater he’s a gritty hard working player who plays a shutdown role both at even strength and on the penalty kill. He’s the Jet’s leading hitter and he has chipped in a few points offensively.  Ideally you want Tanner Glass on your team’s 4th line, but the Jets haven’t had that luxury. The GST line has been playing a 3rd line role and whatever 3 forwards get placed below them instantly turn into a Bermuda Triangle of goals.
Glass gained some solid playoff experience during the Canucks cup run last season. His playoff experience could add some appeal at the deadline, but the reality is that Glass is a 4th line player on just about any playoff team. Teams won’t be fighting for him and they definitely wouldn’t give up much to do so. If he is traded I can’t see the Jets getting much more than a 4th round pick in return and that might not be enough for the team to let him go.
Will the Jets resign Tanner Glass? I think there’s a very good chance that Glass is back with the Jets next year. Kendal McArdel is probably the most similar player in the system and he doesn’t offer a defensive game near the level of Glass. Down the road it is possible the Jets look at giving a young centre like the aforementioned Cormier or Gagnon a spot on the 4th line wing, so it isn’t a lock, but I expect to see Glass back with the team next year.

Kyle Wellwood – Wellwood is possibly the most interesting Jet this season. He was a last minute pickup who has had a hard time finding a permanent job. The Jets signed him to a meager (by NHL standards) $700,000 contract for the season and he has produced at far higher than expected rates. Wellwood’s 36 points are good for third on the team. If you compare him to other right wingers around the league, Wellwood’s 36 points would rank him 29th in the league. In other words he has produced at a 1st line rate for $700,000. That is exceptional value!
I’m sure Wellwood’s production hasn’t gone unnoticed by other GMs. Teams that are looking to add some offensive punch to any of their top 3 lines or to their power play have to be looking at Kyle Wellwood. The fact that Wellwood can play any of the 3 forward positions undoubtedly adds to his value. If the Jets were to move Wellwood, he should net the team at least a 2nd round pick. That kind of return would have to be considered a win for management as they invested next to nothing in him. I’m not sure they should move him though.
Will the Jets resign Kyle Wellwood? I am leaning towards “Yes.”  The reality is that the Jets have nobody in the system that can match Wellwood’s production and the team is starved for offence.  Antropov, Mittens and Fehr are already on the roster and they have not been able to earn a permanent role in the top 6.  Outside of the current roster, Scheifele might be the Jets’ only prospect who will ever become a top 6 forward and we can’t assume he will be ready next season.

Free agency isn’t a great option either.
Food for thought:

The Buffalo Sabers signed 27 year old centre Ville Leino to a 6 year $27 million dollar deal.  Coming into this season Leino had recorded 30 goals and 43 assists in 149 games (.49 pts/game).

The Winnipeg Jets signed 28 year old centre Kyle Wellwood to a $700,000 dollar deal.  Coming into this season Wellwood had recorded 68 goals and 105 assists in 373 games (.46 pts/game).

Wellwood has more than doubled Leino’s production this year.

If Wellwood is interested in remaining with the Jets the team would be wise to resign him. A three or four year term would be perfect as he is only 28 years old and his versatility allows him to play pretty much anywhere in the top nine.

Tim Stapleton – Tim Stapleton has been a pleasant surprise and a great story this season.  Timmy is a 29 year old career AHLer who came into the season with 55 NHL games on his resume and 10 career points. He has almost doubled that production this season. He has shown definitively that he can play in this league and that he can help a team on the powerplay.  Stapleton’s 11 powerplay points are good for 3rd on the team and he has actually produced more powerplay points / minute than any player on the team. All that said I’m not sure there is a market for Stapleton at the deadline.
Will the Jets resign Tim Stapleton? I think there is a very good chance Stapleton rejoins the Jets next season. Noel is clearly a fan and he Stapleton’s versatility makes him pretty well and ideal 13h forward. Stapleton has played in 4 different positions and he has played on all 4 lines. There is a chance he doesn’t return in free agency, but I don’t think a trade is in play. Even if the Jets were to trade him there wouldn’t be much of a return.

Non UFAs
There are a few Jets players outside of the pending UFAs that could be in play at the deadline.

Nik Antropov – Nik is the target of all sorts of criticism. I am not as anti-Antro as most, but the reality is that he has been demoted to a 4th line role and thus he must be deemed expendable. He is the kind of veteran that could possibly help a contender, but I don’t think he will be going anywhere.  His $4+ million cap hit and near $5 million salary for next season will make him hard to move at the deadline.

Eric Fehr – Fehr has had an awful season and he has all but played himself out of a roster spot. I am not sure that the Jets or other GMs have completely written him off though. Bad luck has hit him as hard as bad play. Nobody has produced on the Jets 4th line and that is where he has spent most of the season.
 When Fehr is on the ice the team has scored on 2.24% of their shots. That isn’t all on him. I wouldn’t mind the Jets keeping him and giving him another season to prove himself, the bad luck cannot continue forever. Even Scott Gomez got rolling again.  I am not sure any team will make a play specifically for Fehr, but I could see a team asking for him as part of a deal.  He is still an asset.

Antti Miettinen – Mittens is not a regular on the Jets roster, but he is a smart two way player who can play on the powerplay or on the penalty kill. He isn’t likely to demand a big return, but he could be moved. Any team that wants to add veteran depth or needs a serviceable player to fill in for an injured regular could look at Mittens. He is signed through next season, but his $1.5 million salary likely isn’t enough to impact a trade.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trade Bait: Buyers or Sellers?

By: Tim "Bones" Bonnar

As the NHL trade deadline approaches I'm hearing all sorts of talk about trades that the Jets could, should, or according to some cases, MUST make. I understand why, Winnipeg hockey fans are a passionate bunch. We want a winner and we want it right now, plus the play of our 2011-2012 Winnipeg Jets has had added fuel to the fire.  

An incredible month of December inspired playoff dreams, even among some of the biggest doubters.  A terrible January brought us back to earth and created a new kind of doubt, doubt about heart, doubt about effort and doubt about talent. Now fans are sure that the team must be underachieving. This simply isn`t the case, what we saw in December was a glimpse of what the future holds. The team simply isn’t there yet.

If you are one of the people who is clamouring for wholesale changes, ask yourself this;

What is likely the more accurate reflection of the team ?
a)      A very good December?
b)      Or a bad 2010-11 campaign and a very mediocre October, November, January and February?

We can blame the schedule. We can blame injuries, but the reality is that this team has been bad more than they have been good. This is the same team finished last season ranked 25th in the NHL with a -46 goal differential. This year the Jets Rank 22nd and they are on pace to finish with a -33 goal differential.
All that said, the playoffs are still in reach. This isn’t because of how good the Jets have been, this is more a reflection of just how bad the bottom half of the Eastern Conference is. We aren’t watching the Jets win games to stay in the hunt, we are watching other teams lose to keep us in the hunt.  Does that mean we should we give up hope? Of course not. We do have a chance. Toronto and Washington are extremely inconsistent and the Jets will play Washington head to head. We can still make the playoffs.

To me, the big questions are: “Would making the playoffs be a good thing?” and “What would making the playoffs be worth?” I will approach this subject from a few different angles over the coming weeks. What do we have? What do we need? Who would and wouldn’t fit at the trade deadline and why?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Kingdom for a Centre

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

As the trade deadline approaches, I, along with many other Jets fans can’t help but take an imaginary spin in the General Managers chair. I’ve already said my peace on the philosophy that I believe this club should take when making personnel decisions but now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. Where is this club at, and what does it need? A question that no doubt has a lot of different answers, and just as many differing opinions. Being a certified non-expert, I’ll fearlessly take a crack at it.

First some housekeeping. In my humble opinion this club has been woefully mismanaged for the ten years it resided in Hotlanta. I have zero sympathy for Craig Ramsey, Don Waddell or even Rick Dudley, and in my opinion ejecting that group from the organization as the first order of business was a vital and necessary step in changing the fortunes of the new Winnipeg Jets. If you look at how this team functioned as a unit to begin the season and the (lack of) prospects pool you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  The very fact that the former management group seemed to make player personnel decisions based on the demographic of its market place is enough of a damning indictment, but add to that the lack of development time for prospects and the apparent disregard for the future of the club, it leaves us with a lot to clean up going forward.

It is however not all bad. Mistakes aside, this club does have some tremendous upside, right now. There is a young corps of players that have not yet begun to hit their stride. The defense is deep (although offensively minded), the goal tending is solid in both the backup and starter positions, and we have some great wingers who can attack with speed. Our fourth line can grind with the best of them, and toughness is rarely an issue. So what’s missing?

A first line centre.

Dear reader, I know what you’re thinking; Thanks Captain Obvious, everyone’s been saying that from day one. The thing that strikes me though is that when you look at the depth chart and slot in a bona-fide first line centre, this team starts to look like a real contender. Now I know first line centres are harder to come by than honest politicians but everything literally falls into place when you add that piece. Let’s do an imaginary experiment and slot Grabovski (who coincidentally is a UFA next year) into the first line. Suddenly you have two scoring lines, a good third line and a fourth line that has never been in question. Couple that with a blue line that can also score, the rock solid goal tending of the Pavelac/Mason duo and you have a team that is ready to make a run into the playoffs. I’m really not sure if there’s another team in the NHL where an opening in one spot is such a lynchpin to greatness.

Now I know that we have about as much chance of acquiring Grabovski  in the off season as we do at acquiring Teemu Selanne for a playoff run, but you get the picture of just how important it could be to this team to fill that spot. This of course is not lost on the hockey minds at True North who I am told have been focusing most of their scouting efforts on the centre ice position. The drafting of Mark Scheifele is case in point (although some are questioning why we didn’t take Sean Couturier).  So the question now is how do we go about obtaining this elusive piece to the puzzle? Trading away other pieces seems counterproductive, and waiting for a draft pick to mature into what we need could take far too long. The only option left seems to be free agency.

Here is a list of 2102 unrestricted free agents in the centre ice position: . I’ll let my betters decide which would be the best candidate for the Winnipeg Jets, but the numbers at least still seem to make sense. The Winnipeg Jets in the 2012-13 campaign will not be struggling to meet the cap floor, but will definitely have space and someone at the top of the previously mentioned list could be the missing link we have been looking for.

This article has been centred (bad pun alert) on finding a first line guy up front, but I would be remiss in my observations if I didn’t mention that the blue line, although deep could also benefit from a stay at home shut down guy. Identifying and acquiring this type of player is sometimes harder than obtaining a great goal scoring machine. Stats don’t necessarily tell the tale and a scout’s intuition plays a major role. One prospect in our pool, Zach Yuen fits this description to the letter; he’s a shutdown guy with a crazy plus minus that occasionally chips in a goal. Unfortunately he is far from NHL ready and still a few years out. Even when he makes it to the bigs the art of being an NHL shutdown guy takes years to learn and perfect.  So again free agency may be the answer – or maybe a smart trade for an underrated d-man on a struggling team.  Either way it’s something to keep in mind.

As you all know I am merely a humble fan trying to make my way through the minefield of player personnel talk, but in my opinion this team is only one key piece away from greatness. Until then the seventh man will have to step in and fill the role. Making it to the playoffs at this point will take an all hands on deck effort and I don’t think, this year at least that a trade is the answer.

Monday, February 6, 2012

2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad - Headline Round Up

By: Derek "Brooksey" Brookes


Back in 1979 when Winnipeg punched its ticket into the NHL the city was on a euphoric high.  While celebrating the Avco cup the crowd started chanting N-H-L, N-H-L!  The Jet's coach Tommy McVie shouted back “They’re going to take all our players.’ And the crowd said, ‘We don’t care! We don’t care!’ McVie said, ‘You don’t understand. The prices of tickets are probably going to triple.’ And the crowd said, ‘We don’t care! We don’t care!’ And McVie said, ‘It’s going to be a long time before we can win games and get in the playoffs.’ And they were still saying, ‘We don’t care! We don’t care!’

If you asked anyone if it mattered what team Winnipeg should buy last spring, most of us would have said ‘We don’t care! We don’t care!’  Funny how history seems to repeat itself.  Now Winnipeg has reentered the NHL with “new” players, ticket prices have roughly tripled (since 1996) and it could be a long time before we win enough games to get into the playoffs. 

“I’ll never be able to give you something I just haven’t got” – Jim Steinman

As a self-proclaimed homer it hurts to say this, but the Jets aren’t going to step it up anytime soon.  If you look at the roster’s career years and compare it to this year’s point projections you will find that the top 6 forwards are status quo or a little worse.  Add to that the 3rd and 4th lines are overachieving.  Wellwood, Burmistrov, Glass, and Stapleton will likely have their best NHL seasons.  Fehr, Miettinen and Thorburn will post horrible numbers.  Fehr was a healthy scratch for the first time this season as Machacek got the start against Montreal.  The important conclusion is that the team’s roster has no untapped breakout stars.  This crew is performing at or near its potential.

The organization has been quietly sticking to the plan to obtain depth through the draft and free agency.  That is to say they have made no significant trades so far this year.  With the trade deadline looming, talk is heating up that a move is coming.  Whatever moves they make, it must bring the Jets more depth.  The team needs scoring talent desperately, but it can’t be at the cost of our future.

Back when the Jets were out winning Avco Cups, songwriter Jim Steinman was struggling.  He complained to a friend that no one liked his stuff.  He was told to just write something simple.  So he went off and wrote “2 Out of 3 Ain’t bad”.  The advice was very helpful, as Meatloaf made it one of his most popular songs.  Maybe the Jets could learn from that advice and start getting some people to the net and pick up some simple “greasy goals”. Winnipeg will need to win 2 out of 3 the rest of the way in to have a chance at a playoff spot so in this case 2 out of 3 ain’t bad after all.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Buying, Selling and Horse Trading

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

Deuce has officially banned me from making any comment about player personnel. After being sold on a Parise for Kane trade by a friend of mine, I betrayed my non expert status by going on line with it.  I was promptly handed my hat with the news that Parise was about to become a UFA next year and therefore the idea was beyond ridiculous.  The muzzle was slapped on and I was told to stick with opinion pieces and leave the fantasy GMing to my betters.

So how does one write anything about the Jets in the time running up to the trade deadline without pontificating about a trade? I wasn’t sure, so I mulled it over. While mulling, I of course monitored Twitter and read the various postings on the message boards. Trade debate flew through the ether and I sat on the sidelines humbly observing the faithful. It was during this time that I noticed something peculiar; the debate was polarizing into two camps.

The ‘tank the season’ crowd is looking hungrily at next year’s crop of draft picks. Their line of thinking is that if we throw in the towel right now and sell off some spare parts we can get some high picks and build from a promising crop of prospects. Admittedly the Jets current prospect cupboard aside from Scheifele is looking a little bare. Common wisdom would suggest that long term winning is a product of building through the draft. A few strategic high round picks could stock this club with talent for years going forward. This crowd dreams of long term dynasties. A little short term pain for some long term gain.

This brings us to the ‘make the play-offs at all costs’ crowd. These fans are in favour of bold moves which could add that infamous missing piece that would help us break through the glass ceiling and into eighth place. They argue that this team has a great young core and that the addition of a proven goal scorer can take us to the Promised Land right now. They suggest dangling draft picks and personnel in front of the leagues sellers in preparation for a playoff push that could lead to who knows where! Their mantra is ‘the time is now!’, and they dream of an inaugural season Stanley Cup. They say bet it all and roll the dice.

I of course I say there must be a third way. Mr. Chipman has often said that he would like to model this club after the storied Detroit Red Wings. If you look at the Red Wings they manage to do something that very few other clubs can: They win and always bring awesome players up through their system.  There is no reason why Winnipeg can’t follow this model, although executing this philosophy is easier said than done. I believe that throwing in the towel and simply rolling over half way into the season would be a huge mistake. This club needs to start out with a philosophy of achievement, and a determination to set up a culture of winning. Making the playoffs should be expected and it should always be the minimum goal of any Winnipeg Jets team no matter how hard they’re struggling to get there. While the play-offs are still attainable, that should be the focus.

Now the question is, do we give anything up to get there? If we’re talking high round draft picks or promising prospects, I say no. Making the playoffs is important, but so too is holding on to our future. Trading parts may be acceptable, if it makes sense, but trading the future is just a little too risky for a club that desperately needs to get some kids into the system.

So what do we do as we approach the deadline? We use common sense. The faithful need to believe that this young corps of players can get them to the playoffs and management needs to identify the baggage. Swapping out the under performers is what the powers that be should be focussed on as we move into the stretch. Add character veterans, or if you can launch a few plumbers in favour of some offense up front.   We all know the Jets have their share of plumbers. But then again trading out parts that don't work for ones that do is the real trick isn’t it?

When looking at the future there should be an extraordinary emphasis on scouting . We need not only to draft high but draft smart. Some of the biggest and brightest stars of the game where drafted late or not drafted at all. Dynasties are built on smart hockey people identifying talent, not just securing high picks. Smart hockey people are the key and I believe True North fully appreciates that.

So there you have it. I’ve managed to get through the Blog without moving any players out of town in favour of end of the season UFA’s .  I believe in this young team and I believe in the organization. Do they need another piece to be great? Yes. Should they trade away the future in search of that piece? Probably not.  At the same time the Jets should still put a winning product on the ice without fearing the loss of a draft pick.

The Jets can have their cake and eat it too. Why not? Detroit manages to.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Flying Low - Headline Round Up

By: Derek "Brooksey" Brookes

The Jets are flying low.  

Fans are fidgeting in their seats waiting for the captain to come on the intercom and assure us we're still proceeding to the playoffs.  Some passengers are dreaming about trades that will bring back Teemu the Great and grant all of our wishes.  According to SPORTS CLUB STATS the Jets are pretty much done.  Unless the team can get hot and stay hot (like 19-10-3 kinda heat) we are 80% odds to miss out.  That would put the Jets firmly into the SELLERS MARKET come trade deadline.   It sucks, but maybe Chevy will play it smart and get some good return for our looming UFA’s.  Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their upright and locked position…

The ALL STAR GAME weekend is over and much like the Winter Classic it just felt overhyped.  There were some flashy moves in the skills competition but the game itself lacked any consequence.  With the mid season lull perhaps it’s a good time to ponder FIVE QUESTIONS THE JETS NEED TO ANSWER

Hey there sportsfans, we have a fantastic inflight movie to entertain you during your flight.  DESERT DOGS III: BETTMAN’S LAST STAND is just starting on the in-flight entertainment system.  Those pesky Phoenix pups are still holding out despite no owner, no fans and no money.  For those Jets fans who have waited forever for the  final chapter of the Coyotes saga this could be it.  I like to think of it as the OJ Simpson trial on ice.  Both long running stories have lies, lawyers, greed, betrayal and lots of red…ink.  A Coyotes relocation would make an amazing trivia question.  Shane Doan could be the only player in NHL history to play his entire career for the same franchise and yet play in 3 different cities.  Some Jets fans believe the NHL will repatriate the history of the first franchise if Phoenix moves.  Others believe that the franchise must keep its records with it.  THE FRANCHISE OF THESEUS: A RANT ON RELOCATIONS eloquently answers that question.  

On the other movie channel we have EVERYBODY LOVES WINNIPEG.  Sports Illustrated came to see for themselves what the NHL return means to Winnipeg.  Who knows, with some magic maybe we can still have a storybook ending.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fear and Retribution on the Red River

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

Passion is a word that gets thrown around a lot in Jets land. Passion is a funny thing, when it’s controlled it can drive the engine of the team and personify itself as the seventh man on the ice. When it’s out of control it can burn everyone in its wake and leave behind a charred wreckage of disdain and mistrust. Unfortunately passion leapt out of the boundaries of control last week and as this week begins we’re left to sift through the debris.

As we all know the Jets are slumping. In a lot of towns the mid season slump is a pretty common occurrence. The Jets are a young club that are only one or two pieces away from being a contender, but when injuries hit they can take a heavy toll. This team generally lacks depth up front so responsibility for at least some of the offence falls back to blue line. During the month of January at any given time at least two top four defenseman have been out and at least one of the top three forwards. The result has been a mirror image of December that has seen the Jets lose far more games than they’ve won.

Uneasiness descended on the faithful in January, and anxious trade talk started to filter through the fan forums. Jets fans had battled naysayers for fifteen years, but recently the packed MTSC and a winning young team had given them more than enough ammunition to silence the critics. Now jilted voices from Atlanta began to taunt them with suggestions of repeating last year’s mid season nose dive out of playoff contention and the worst of all insults: that the new Winnipeg Jets where just the Atlanta Thrashers re-packaged.

Frustration mounted with the losses, and the sweet passion that had been so neatly bottled up and put on display at the MTSC was turning sour and spilling out into accusations of bad coaching and lacklustre effort from players. In short, people where looking for someone to blame. It’s during these times, when a group of people are at the zenith of their misfortune that they become the most susceptible to group think and mob mentality. And so enter the axe grinders.

Coincidentally, just as the team began their unfortunate slide in the month of January a strange rumour started to circulate regarding the off-ice habits of the team’s young star Evander Kane. Kane had often been accused of not putting forth his best effort every night, and indeed he projected an odd arrogance, but now things started to turn strange. You can always spot rumours because they are always different stories with the same theme.  All of these rumours where a variation of the young star going to either a night spot or a restaurant and not paying his tab. Sometimes the story teller would add a bit of embellishment with a thrown glass or a bar room brawl just to spice things up a bit. In the beginning these accusations where easily dismissed and the stories of “my sisters, friends, brothers, cousin” where brushed aside and indentified for what they were; BS. However as the team slipped down the standings and people looked for a target, the rumours stubbornly persisted.

And now we come to the dark crescendo of our bitter tale. Two things happened simultaneously; Kane started to miss games with an undiagnosed concussion from a previous game and a fake fan posted a picture on Twitter of a sign he supposedly carried to a game asking Kane to pay his bills on behalf of the servers and restauranteurs of Winnipeg.  Kane, already being backhandedly accused of needlessly missing games by some, did the stupidest thing possible when confronted with this picture; he responded.  Not only did it broadcast the picture to more people than it should have, but it gave the whole sordid affair a nugget of credibility that the axe grinders and naysayers grabbed onto and rode through multiple press stories and blog postings. It basically gave the nutbars a platform and even the most moderate of Jets fans began to wonder if the young star was worth the controversy he was creating.

The light of day dispelled these rumours because obviously people that make seven figure salaries are not inclined to do the dine and dash. With this new realization the mob did what mobs do, they went on a witch hunt and began to lynch people from the highest virtual tree they could find. Face book pages were ransacked and threats of cruelty to axe grinders and nut jobs abounded. The pendulum had swung wildly in a different direction as fans came to the defence of their star player.

At the end of the day as we make our way through the rubble we can trace the Twitter incident back to an obviously disgruntled person who, if you sort through his history of tweets, may have had racial motivations for his libellous activities, and of course those looking for a frustration release valve hopped on board his misguided band wagon. And so our story comes to this dark and dreary dead end of mistrust and retribution, with the nut bars called out and the record set straight.

Now as the month starts to wind down we find ourselves licking our wounds both on and off the ice. The Jets have seen some key players return to the line up, and their game, although not producing winning results, seems much improved. Evander Kane is still out of action and no doubt wondering why the shouts of adoration at the MTSC have turned into libel on Twitter and the fans are still very much in the woods looking for reasons why their Jets can’t crack the top eight. January has been a very bad month in Jets nation, but it’s nothing that a little winning won’t cure.