Malcolm Gladwell recently published a podcast series based on the concept of a hypothetical “Magic Wand Experiment”. The premise is fantastical, but essentially, Gladwell explores the scientific possibilities of ‘what could be’ if experimenters were not grounded in physics and pragmatic fact. I propose a similar thought experiment with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets are currently a respectable 3-3, yet there is uncertainty looming around every corner. Blake Wheeler’s days as a Jet are numbered, as are Pierre Luc Dubois’. Heck, this team was in complete disarray no more than 3 months ago. We’ve gone from dreams of a Cup, to the cusp of a dream (I realize that this sounds like the tagline of a terrible Kevin Costner movie).
The practical realities of a small market Canadian franchise are omnipresent, and decisions made, can rarely be undone. But what if that were not the case? What if we had a magic wand and we could retroactively rebuild on hindsight? What would we do? Experiments are just elaborate guesses to unknown problems, so I suppose there is only one way to find out:
The Winnipeg Jets Magic Wand Experiment from an Armchair GM
1. The first order of business is a restructuring of Mark Scheifele’s 2016 contract. Teddy KJB put it best (in a terrible Russian accent), “pay that man his money.” This writer believes that Mark’s displeasure with his contract has manifested itself not only in his play, but in some of the recent locker room dissonance. It seems counterintuitive to undo what many believe is a great bargain for the Jets, so why pay more if you don’t have to?
I give credence to the proposition that even a modest increase in yearly salary would have squelched this discontent. For better or worse, Scheifele is leader on this team, and while acquiescing to player demands sets a dangerous precedent, it can also show the league that as an organization – you remedy wrongs for players.
2. In 2018, the Jets made the Conference Finals before being dispatched by a pesky Golden Knight’s team. The defensive core at the time? Byfuglien, Morrissey, Myers, Chariot, Trouba, and Kulikov. Impressive indeed. Since that season, all are gone except for Morrissey. That level of personnel turnover would be high for a Burger King, let alone an NHL team.
Did the Winnipeg Jets ever have a chance to retain Jacob Trouba?
An easy reimagination of this defensive carousel would be to try to keep Byfuglien and Trouba at all costs. Even in this magic wand experiment, both Trouba and Big Buff were not long for the friendly confines of Manitoba. Trouba’s heartfelt commitment to his partner was well documented by Arthur Staple of the Athletic, so Winnipeg was never the long-term plan.
The issue here is that the Jets organization did not rebuild the defensive unit with haste, or precision. Samberg and Chisholm are decent prospects, and despite my undying love for Heinola, none of these guys project to be consistent top 4 NHL starters.
In our experiment, we draft Kaiden Gruhle in 2020, and trade Wheeler back in 2019 (at his peak value) for a top 2 defenseman. Easier said than done, but let me be clear, I love Cole Perfetti (who we picked in the first round in 2020). Also, Wheeler has been an excellent Winnipeg Jet. These moves, while difficult, accomplish two things: (i) it avoids the need for the panic trades acquiring Dillon and Schmidt; and (ii) we avoid the diminishing returns on Wheeler’s contract. These moves may not popular, but this isn’t High School.
Our Magic Wand Experiment has Patrik Laine staying with the Winnipeg Jets
3. Designate Patrick Laine as an assistant captain in 2019. Wait, the Xbox and ice cream guy? Aren’t leadership roles supposed to be earned? Laine had just finished putting up 36 and 44 goals in his first 2 seasons respectively. He had established himself as an instrumental member of the team, and a clutch playoff performer.
Yes, there were maturity issues, but we treated him like a petulant child and effectively put him in a time out. You water flowers, you don’t put them in the shade. Maturity isn’t linear, but by all accounts, Laine wanted to be a leader. This move would have given the younger players a voice in the room, and perhaps lessened the leadership stranglehold Wheeler brandished at the time.
4. Be less loyal. Again, a counterintuitive premise. Let’s start with Kevin Cheveldayoff. The average NHL General Manager has a median tenure of 4 years. Chevy has held his position for 11, despite the Jets failing to make the playoffs in 6 of those 11 years. After the 2019 season, it was time for a change. Which leads us to Paul Maurice.
It is not cold or calculated to say that Maurice had maximized his contribution to the Jets roster years prior to his resignation. It happens. Unless you are Jon Cooper, you have a small window to take a team to the summit in professional sports, otherwise you get transitioned elsewhere. Loyalty is virtue until it is not. That sounds like a terrible Facebook quote, but it is true. We have held onto leadership (Blake Wheeler included) well past their “best before” dates, and this magic wand would rectify that.
5. Lastly, and for all that is good and sacred – we would transition to the retro jerseys as the Jets’ primary uniform.
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It doesn’t take David Copperfield to tell you that there is no such thing as a magic wand, and that the changes I proposed could come with an entirely different set of complications. As any fake GM, however, I stand by my decisions. We also shouldn’t give up on this year’s Jets. The 4-0 drubbing of the Blues is a good indication of what we can accomplish when the stars align. A playoff run is not out of the question. All we need is a full buy-in of the new system, and well….a little magic.