Plenty of questions heading into the Jets off-season

- April 27th, 2013

The Winnipeg Jets held their garbage-bag clean-up day that also featured exit meetings on Friday afternoon.

The obituary on the 2013 NHL lockout season has been written and the players have weighed in with their thoughts.

It’s clear that the winds of change might be sweeping through the Jets’ dressing room before the team re-assembles in September for training camp.

With nine pending unrestricted free agents — goalie Al Montoya, D-men Ron Hainsey, Grant Clitsome, Derek Meech and forwards Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Antti Miettinen, Mike Santorelli and Aaron Gagnon — along with nine pending restricted free agents — D-men Zach Bogosian, Zach Redmond, Arturs Kulda, Paul Postma and forwards Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov, Eric Tangradi, and Anthony Peluso — it’s a given that not all players will be back.

But just how dramatic will the roster turnover be?

Only GM Kevin Cheveldayoff knows for sure and not even he will know before mid-summer.

We’ll look deeper into what the roster might look like in the coming days/weeks but it’s clear the Jets need to upgrade their talent level in order to take the next step into the playoffs.

Jets head coach Claude Noel said the exit meetings weren’t overly sentimental.

“Hockey is what it is. They all know. You say bye to them as a group knowing you won’t see them again. I don’t think you say good luck or anything of that stuff,” said Noel “Not hugs and kisses going around.”

Paul Friesen and I worked the dressing room as best we could on Friday and not surprisingly most of the free agents polled expressed a desire to return (why wouldn’t they?). Really appreciated the honesty of Miettinen, who knew full well that he had underachieved during his two seasons here and thought it was unlikely he’d be back.

The move to claim Miettinen off waivers from Tampa Bay didn’t turn out, but he’s a stand-up guy and nobody feels worse about his inability to make a bigger impact than he does.

I need a bit more time to assess the bigger picture but there’s no doubt in my mind Montoya would be a good fit to remain as Ondrej Pavelec’s back-up for another couple of seasons.

“I learned a lot. It was a good team, a good atmosphere here. I think my game grew in a positive direction,” said Montoya. “I learned a lot playing with (Pavelec) here and working with the goalie coach (Wade Flaherty). That was great for me, helping get my game to where I wanted it to be. For me, it’s only positive going forward. I want to contribute more to this team.

“You really worry about what you can control during the season. I think I did that and the rest will take care of itself. We’ll see where it goes from here. I know what I’m capable of. I’ve won in this league year after year. Hopefully I keep doing what I’m doing, keep growing and becoming a better player.”

Bogosian held court with reporters for the first time since suffering a suspected concussion after taking a high hit from New York Islanders RW Kyle Okposo, who didn’t get a penalty or suspension after delivering the blow to the chin.

Bogosian played when asked if the injury was actually a concussion.

“I said that I’m not going to say what anybody else didn’t say.” said Bogosian. “Whatever you want to take from Claude (Noel) and his interviews, that’s what it was.”

I asked Bogosian for his thoughts on the season overall and if he felt he was able to take another step forward in terms of his overall development.

“I think I did. I really made strides forward on the offensive side of things,” said Bogosian, who had five goals, nine points in 33 games while averaging 23:07 of ice time per game. “When you’re a defenceman, you want to be that guy that is relied on to be playing against other teams top lines and I did that quite a bit this year. I’m happy with where my game is going. Obviously, as a professional and an athlete, you want to be the best that you can be. Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement, like every other player. But I’ll just try to work hard every day and get the job done.”

As for the hit, Bogosian wasn’t interested in sharing his true thoughts on the matter.

“I did see it. It’s tough,” said Bogosian. “I’ve been in those situations, won the other end of them where it’s been kind of questionable. But the league did what they thought they needed to do. I’m not really going to comment on it or get into an argument in the media with it. What’s done is done. I just have to move forward from it.”

When asked if he thought the Jets have the personnel to be a playoff team, Bogosian reinforced his belief in the core group.

“Yeah, I believe so. Obviously, we didn’t get the job done this year. There’s a lot of guys up for contracts, so you don’t know what the team is going to look like moving forward,” said Bogosian. “It’s tough going through a situation like we did this year. Moving forward, just being in the hunt and being right there, you can take a lot out of that too.”

What’s the biggest thing that needs to improve?

“Consistency. It’s something we’ve talked about but any time you let things slip a little bit, like we did, is never a good thing,” said Bogosian. “We made good strides this year in playing on the road, last year, not so much. Just consistency would be the No. 1 thing.”

Pending UFA Nik Antropov expressed his belief in the direction as well, making it clear he’d like to be part of the solution moving forward.

“Absolutely, I want to be part of this. I thought we did a pretty good couple of steps forward from the past year,” said Jets centre Nik Antropov. “It’s disappointing not making the playoffs, I thought we had a playoff team. But there were a couple of games we should have won that we didn’t and we paid for it right now, being out of the playoffs.”

Bogosian’s value to the Jets is obvious, but here’s what one of his longtime teammates said when I asked about the D-man the Jets are likely to lock up for the long-term.

“He’s a special kid, a special talent,” said Jets winger Chris Thorburn. “Not many people can do what he can do, as far as skate, move the puck, get out of trouble. He’s big and physical. He’s got all aspects of the game that you want from a top defenceman and he’s still young. He’s got a lot of drive and he’s just a good person too. He’s a great piece of the puzzle and he’s an important piece.”

As Jets D Toby Enstrom held his scrum with reporters, you could hear the frustration in his voice and it was easy to understand why.

The mobile Jets defenceman was flying out of the gate in the condensed season, picking up two goals and 12 points over the first 10 games.

Three games later, Enstrom was hit by Pascal Dupuis of the Pittsburgh Penguins, sustaining a shoulder problem that left him on the shelf for six weeks.

Upon his return, Enstrom chipped in a pair of goals but in his 22nd game of the season, he took a hit from Buffalo Sabres forward Steve Ott, leaving him with a back issue that ended his season seven games early.

“It’s just been a tough year with the injuries and everything,” said Enstrom. “I’ve been feeling great and playing well. It was tough being out and being on the side watching. I really wanted to be in and help the team push for a playoff spot.

Despite missing 26 games due to injury, Enstrom was tied for eighth in team scoring with Kyle Wellwood at 15 points.

The 28-year-old has surely heard the questions about his durability, but it’s important to note that he appeared in all 82 games during his first three seasons and missed 10 in 2010-11 before missing 20 last season and 26 this year.

That’s trending in the wrong direction, but Enstrom is confident he can get healthy and do his part to help the Jets improve going forward.

The next thing Jets fans will be keeping their eyes on is Monday NHL Draft Lottery.

The Jets finished their season in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 24-21-3, their 51 points at least three behind the Ottawa Senators, who close out the regular season against the Boston Bruins on Sunday.

Here’s Noel’s take on the season overall.

“I like the way we played at times, but not consistently. But I did see growth in our team, which is what encourages me,” said Noel. “This was really good for us, a season of 48 games. It’s way different, and it’s stressful. As a team we could use the experience of dealing with stress or pressure. From that standpoint it was really, really good for us. It gives you a lot of information about your players about who can handle it and who can’t, or they have to learn a little bit more about it.”

Be sure to check out Sunday’s Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com to see my annual Jets’ report card, the Sun 2013 Jets awards (needs a new name but chosen by me) and a story on what Jacob Trouba learned during his few weeks observing the Jets.

We’ll check in with some posts over the next little while here. Want to thank all of you who took the time to check out the blog throughout the season.

 

 

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