What happens next for the Winnipeg Jets after an early Round 1 exit?

Winnipeg Jets (Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)
Winnipeg Jets (Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports) /

Cheryl Crow said it best:

“I thought you were singing your heart out to me
Your lips were syncing and now I see, a change (a change would do you good)”

For younger readers, Cheryl Crow was a big deal in the ’90s. Imagine a bohemian Taylor Swift in an era devoid of self-awareness.

Regardless, Cheryl’s lyrical message is poignant, as a change will do the Winnipeg Jets good. The Jets were the first team eliminated from the 2023 NHL playoffs – succumbing in Game 5 to the resurgent Las Vegas Golden Knights (4-1). The score belies the effort put forth by this injury-plagued Jets team. So much so, their nearly septuagenarian coach Rick Bowness took a flamethrower to his post-game press conference and openly questioned his players’ will to win.

Regardless of injuries, luck, or happenstance, the Winnipeg Jets once again close their NHL season discourteously. In 2022, Paul Maurice resigned as head coach of the Jets openly questioning his ability to maximize the talent-laden Jets’ roster. Dave Lowry became the tempest in a teapot for a Jets season that was doomed for failure. Smash cut to April of 2023, and yet another person paid by the franchise to coach the Winnipeg Jets has publicly given the shrug emoji.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice (and then again repeatedly), shame on me. This is a dance Jets fans have done before. The “what if” half-decade of sliding door hypotheticals for the Winnipeg Jets has grown tired and infuriating. You either have it, or you don’t. I don’t think the current construction of the Jets roster “has it”.

Winnipeg Jets need a personnel overhaul

Let’s use Mark Scheifele as our totem for illustration. Unquestionably, Scheifele is a Winnipeg Jets success story. As the first ever Jets 2.0 draft pick, Scheifele has been almost quintessential to the Jets experience over the last 10 years. His evaluation depends on whether we are thirsty observers bent on rationalization, or honest evaluators of impact. I lean the former.

I will submit that Mark Scheifele lacks the intangible traits of a franchise player. Watching Mark Stone lead the Knights to victory confirms my suspicions. Mark Stone is not, in totality, a more talented or skilled player than Mark Scheifele. The difference is, Stone is fully invested, and Scheifele is not. There is a selflessness to leadership that often gets overlooked.

This holds true across the roster. PLD is another perfect example of failed promise, as his disappearance after Game 1 should be appropriately chastised.

This is a roster that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has steadfastly defended and will more than likely roll back. The broader media has adopted a reality that  Jets fans have realized for quite some time – there is a pronounced endpoint to this Jets core.

PLD, Scheifele, Wheeler and Hellebuyck are all free agents after next season. Outside of PLD, each Jets stalwart is pushing and/or exceeding 30 years old. I am no expert in team building, but committing longer term contracts to + 30 players is a recipe for failure.

What will the Winnipeg Jets do vs. what the Winnipeg Jets should do

As a fan of the Winnipeg Jets, my worry is that current management sees this roster as a tweak away from greatness. That is the blueprint they followed at the 2023 trade deadline. Instead of heavily investing in what is inevitably the last run of this current core, they equivocated around the edges – content to roll the dice on a roster depreciably worse than the 2018 version of itself.

Deference is not an option here. I believe Jets ownership underappreciates the savvy of its clientele. Jets fans can stomach a rebuild provided it is done competently. Firstly, lets appoint a president of hockey operations to act as a buffer between Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff.

We all know Chevy’s job is perpetually safe, so this could be an intermediate measure.  Next, seriously consider the viability of this group moving forward.  The trade value for each of these players will never be higher than they are right now.

I am on the record as having sympathy for the Jets injury plight this postseason. I am also on record as being skeptical that this crew, healthy or not, has the mettle to extend well into May.

PLD wants to be in Montreal, so acquiesce to this desire. It is time to rebuild. As a fan, I don’t want to pay aging stars well past their age apex. Especially those stars that have failed to yield any appreciable playoff success. To do otherwise would be (as Cheryl Crow coins it) “chasing dragons with plastic swords”.