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.

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