WASHINGTON, D.C. — Riding the Amtrak between Washington and New York City to continue coverage of the Stanley Cup playoff series between the Capitals and Rangers, it was time to share a few thoughts on the season-ending presser Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff held on Wednesday.
As mentioned in our last post, the Jets face a lot of questions going into the off-season and Cheveldayoff held court for nearly half an hour.
While I wasn’t in attendance, columnist Paul Friesen handled our coverage and was kind enough to provide a transcript of the Q and A, while Dave Minuk of Illegal Curve also supplied the audio for me.
Plenty of attention was given to the usual topics — the play of G Ondrej Pavelec, the inconsistency of Dustin Byfuglien and the pending free agents — but the status of head coach Claude Noel raised a few eyebrows as well.
Noel recently completed his second season as a full-time NHL head coach and while he’s missed the playoffs in both of those, count me among those who feels he’s done a good job, given the talent on the Jets’ roster.
Yes, he didn’t play his fourth line enough during this shortened season and some of the Jets’ top guns dealt with fatigue and various points of the campaign but overall, Noel did a good job keeping the Jets in the playoff discussion until the third period of their second-to-last game.
The reason eyebrows were raised is that Cheveldayoff chose not to fully endorse his head coach, who is entering the final year of the three-year contract he signed at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn.
That doesn’t mean Noel is about to be fired. It just means Cheveldayoff is going through the evaluation process and hasn’t decided whether to give him an extension, allow him to stay on with his deal or to dismiss him and replace him with someone else.
Potentially placing “lame-duck” status on a first-time NHL head coach could bring some issues in terms of the “buy-in” process for a team that is trying to take the next step.
It’s not my money or my decision, but the Jets would be best served by either offering Noel a one-year extension or moving on — don’t leave him in limbo.
On a side note, after spending the past six days watching the Capitals take a 2-0 over the Rangers, it’s only reinforced how much the Jets have to do in order to take the next step. But that’s a discussion for another day, the point is that despite the strides the Jets made this season, you can’t make an argument they were better than the Capitals — who roll four lines, having six contributing D, are getting elite-level goaltending from Braden Holtby and boast the top power play in the NHL.
I’ve said it before, the Jets’ roster needs an upgrade to get above the playoff line. It all depends on how they look at training camp, but it’s hard to imagine that 2011 first rounder Mark Scheifele and 2012 first rounder Jacob Trouba won’t be pushing for a roster spot in September.
Trouba is coming off a great season and is suiting up for Team USA at the World Championship, while Scheifele’s Barrie Colts play Game 2 of the Ontario Hockey League final with the London Knights today (Sunday). Scheifele had an empty-netter and added an assist in a 4-2 win in Game 1 on Friday and continues to lead the OHL scoring derby, with nine goals and 29 points in 16 games.
It’s clear Scheifele took his demotion in stride and has been doing the things the Jets were hoping would help prepare him for his third NHL training camp.
If the Colts can win the series, you can expect plenty of Jets fans to make the drive to Saskatoon later this month to see Scheifele play in the Memorial Cup.
Speaking of Scheifele, you have to think he’s the guy the Jets see playing alongside Evander Kane but it’s too early to tell if he’ll be ready for Top-6 minutes next season. Whether it’s Scheifele or a return to form for veteran Olli Jokinen, Cheveldayoff knows he needs a new RW to play with Kane, who fought through injuries to his wrist and foot during the stretch drive but had another productive season.
“I would have loved to have found a speedy right winger that could fit in both with Evander for both the short-term and long-term,” said Cheveldayoff. “I wasn’t able to find that. Will that be something that gets drafted… gets traded for? Gets signed in free agency?”
You can bet Kane — who is entering the second year of his six-year contract extension — is hoping that player comes in a trade or free agency.
You can’t expect Cheveldayoff to tell the media which players he might target, but he did give an indication there’s a wish-list he and his scouts are putting together.
“It’s hard to predict. It’s a different summer… the first year the salary cap is coming down. So there’s going to be some interesting nuances that come into play there,” said Cheveldayoff. “There will be some movement. Will the opportunities be the right ones that match what we’re offering… or fit for our needs, that’s the interesting part of the summer.
“There’s lots of work that needs to be done.”
He’s certainly right about that.
Byfuglien remains a lightning rod, providing an end-to-end rush or a booming one-timer and then carelessly leaving an opponent unattended in front of the net for a tap-in goal at a critical time.
I’m on record as saying Byfuglien is the type of guy who would be hard to replace if you decide to move him and you better get a significant return if you go down that road. The status quo isn’t acceptable and we’ll soon find out if the Jets believe Byfuglien can turn the corner or if they’re ready to move on.
“Dustin had a pretty inconsistent year as well. At times he was very, very impactful…. he’s got the ability to make the ‘Wow” plays and pull people out of their seats. He’s a very tough player to handle when he has the puck, the plays he can make.
“Guys continually mention (in their exit meetings) how a guy like Buff can get the puck to them… and helps the breakouts. Certainly on the defensive side of it you’d like Buff to be better. I can say that about a lot of our defence. The guys that have great defensive plays I could say I would love them to be high offensive players. We have to find a way on the depth side to surround the players that compliment each other. We can’t be totally satisfied with anyone’s play this year. Everyone’s got to be pushed, him included.”
In the coming weeks, I’ll work on a list of players who could be good targets for the Jets via free agency or trade — and remember, some interesting names could be in play with the salary cap going down.
The play of Pavelec continues to generate much debate and I’m not with the advanced statistics folks. I see improvement in Pavelec’s game, even if the goals against average or save percentage numbers don’t support the theory.
Neither does Cheveldayoff.
“We did play him pretty hard, but he actually enjoyed that opportunity and there was zero hesitation in his mind that he was going to the World Championships,” said Cheveldayoff. “Did we play him too hard? That’s the way the game had to be played for us to try to get in. I’m very happy with his play, very happy with how Ondrej has begun to mature as a professional athlete. The best years for him are still ahead. He learned a lot.”
Yes, Pavelec still has plenty of room for growth and must get better but I see him trending upward.
Although Pavelec was a workhorse for the second straight season, but this time I don’t think he faded down the stretch because of fatigue — to me, that’s a sign of improved conditioning. Pavelec benefits from being around Jets goalie coach Wade Flaherty and I think he’s going to take his game up another notch or two sooner than later.
Starting next season, the Jets will hit the midway point in their unofficial five-year plan and here’s Cheveldayoff’s general assessment of where they stand.
“We’re very proud of our organization and what we’ve accomplished in the last two years,” said Cheveldayoff. “We’ve established ourselves as one of the premier buildings in the league. We’ve established the fans in this building care about the team, care about the game. For a player, that’s important. But at the end of the day we need to find a way to get better.”
The 2013 NHL Entry Draft will be the next priority for the Jets and I’ll be focusing plenty of attention during the next month to learn about who could be available around the 13th selection.
With six picks in the first three rounds, might the Jets try to move into the Top-10? It all depends on what their draft board looks like.
There’s certainly plenty of food for thought and the work done leading up to the end of June and the beginning of July will ultimately determine whether the Jets’ roster is going to get a minor tweak or a major overhaul.
In the meantime, don’t forget to share your thoughts and have your voice heard in The Winnipeg Sun’s: You Be The Boss: 2013 Jets Edition