Postmortem of the Winnipeg Jets: ER inspired

Growing up, one of my favorite TV shows was “ER”. A post-mulleted George Clooney made being an ER doctor feel like James Bond with a stethoscope. In addition to collecting Hollywood hardware (23 Emmys), ER was also very adept at changing and adapting over its 15-year run. In an effort to remain relevant and ‘fresh’, the original cast was almost entirely replaced by year 6 of the show. Heck, they even tried to convince us that John Stamos was a doctor, which is like convincing the Jets coaching staff to play Ville Heinola – impossible.

The point is, sometimes change is good and necessary in a competitive business. The Winnipeg Jets ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ moment (pun intended) happened back in 2011 (11 years ago), when Mark Chipman announced the return of our beloved franchise. Since then, the Jets have had 1 General Manager, 2 (non-interim) Head Coaches, 2 captains, and a growing nucleus of forwards. Counting this year, the Jets have missed the playoffs 6 of 11 years, and made the Conference Finals just once. That is a defibrillator inducing level of stagnation for a decade plus of mediocrity.

So, as another season draws to an end, with a promising Jets roster all but missing the playoffs (they have a 1.2% chance of making it as of this writing), it is time to examine what needs to change. In “ER” fashion, we will rate the need for change based on the lingo from NBC’s stalwart Thursday night show about impossibly good-looking doctors.

“We need 20 cc’s of Epinephrine, stat.” – Kevin Cheveldayoff. Only 2 NHL GM’s have held the position longer than Chevy: David Poile of the Predators (a staggering 25 years), and Doug Armstrong of the Blues (12 years). The Jets need a shot of adrenaline.

Making a change for the sake of change is usually a fool’s errand, but after 11 years, change is warranted. Chevy has failed to rebuild the Jets defensive unit following the Houdiniesque departure of Dustin Byfuglien. He was also complacent in recognizing the need for change at the coaching position, and was suspiciously quiet during the Kyle Beach scandal. Mostly however, it is clear that the Winnipeg Jets, as currently constructed, are not a competitive hockey team. If a hospital collapses, do you not have to call into question the architect?

“Time of Death” – Dave Lowry, we hardly knew ye. Craig Button (yes, that Craig Button) had a moment of clarity on TSN recently where he postulated that Dave Lowry, and his predecessor Paul Maurice, had failed (rather miserably) to get the ‘most’ out of a talented Jets roster. It pains me to say it, but Craig Button is right.

Lowry is to be commended for splitting up the Scheifele/Wheeler bro-fest, and for reuniting Morrissey and DeMelo on the back end. That said, the Jets 5 v 5 play is still substandard, and our defensive awareness (especially from our forwards) is non-existent.

In short, the Jets need to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of their next head coach. It’s easy to point to LA and Calgary as examples of what a good coach can accomplish, but it is more than that. The Jets recent game against the Kings was emblematic. The Kings ‘managed’ the Jets. When was the last time the Jets ‘managed’ any opponent? Before we flatline, a new coach should be given carte blanche to resuscitate this group.

“Code Red” – Blake Wheeler currently makes $10M per year and caries a cap hit of $8.25M. Even with his recent “surge” in production, he is just not worth this money. More importantly, is Blake Wheeler the right leader for this team moving forward? Allow me to speculate in the nebulous. By all accounts, Blake is well liked in the dressing room, and says the right things (for the most part) in big moments. However, he also seems to think this team is “young”; he fights with the press; and he is seemingly resistant to change. A postmortem of the Laine trade indicates that he and Laine were not playing “Call of Duty” together. From an outsider’s perspective, Wheeler seems very into – being ‘Wheeler’. Much like Dr. Doug Ross, being handsome and bilious does not make for a great leader.

The problem is that 26’s contract is untradable, and even it was, he has a no-movement clause baked in. You also can’t strip him of the captaincy unless you are prepared for a full mutiny. The key will be to find a coach/GM who can convince Wheeler that it is time to let the Noah Wyle’s operate.

“Patient is stable, but unresponsive” – Mark Scheifele is a gifted NHL scoring forward and an All-Star. He has also grown increasingly frustrating. Please read Murat Ates work for a comprehensive breakdown of Mark’s defensive struggles. The key stat at play here is that of the top 50 NHL scorers this year, he is one of six to be outscored at even strength. Hockey is simple math – score more goals than you let in. If you are not doing that, what is your value to a team?

Outside of Hellebuyck, Connor, Ehlers and Dubois – I think the Jets should be open to any trade under the right circumstances, Scheifele included.

Some of this might seem overly dramatic (much like ER), but clumsy metaphors aside, it really does seem like time for the Winnipeg Jets organization to make some wholesale changes. Tinkering around the periphery has proven ineffective, and the Jets have been more than loyal to its leadership through the years. Triaging the urgency of change over the off season will determine if the Jets will be “Must See TV” or just another rerun.

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