The NHL playoffs are a war of attrition. When the Winnipeg Jets were eliminated in round 1 by the Golden Knights, it felt like the end of a Kafkaesque dream. The Jets had subjected themselves, and their fanbase, to the full range of emotional systole and diastole.
But then, a subsequent series of events provided solace to Jets’ fans in the form of Schadenfreude. Last year’s Stanley Cup champion fell to the upstart Seattle Kraken, and the Paul Maurice-led Florida Panthers upset the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins. The small intestine has fewer twists and turns than the 2023 NHL playoffs.
The Jets’ internal concerns persist, but watching Colorado and Boston falter reinforced 2 things: (a) the Stanley Cup is really hard to win, and (b) no NHL franchise is immune to heartbreak.
The Winnipeg Jets are not alone in failing to reach their goal
The goal of any professional organization should be to finish each season as the champion. Fans of contending teams don’t wax philosophical about positive gains and missed opportunities. So, when GM Kevin Cheveldayoff espoused as much at his season-ending press conference – it felt like a missed opportunity to reassure Jets fans that first-round exits are NOT acceptable to the organization.
After Coach Bones’ grenade, and the ensuing player shrapnel, it is difficult to see continuity in the Jets’ future. However, the Jets organization will assuredly look to triage, rather than wave the white flag.
That said, I am guilty of zero-sum gaming. Not everything is black and white. For example, at the 2023 Trade deadline, fans and media alike proposed an all-in strategy. Omnipresent was the belief that this was the last chance for this core to make a final push for the Stanley Cup. In retrospect, I stand by this position.
However, let’s imagine the Jets had jettisoned assets for rentals like Maier or Kane only to have Ehlers, Perfetti, Morrissey, and Scheifele miss time to injury. Might their 1st round outcome have been the same? If so, the Jets would now sit equidistant from their goal, but with depleted assets.
Take solace Winnipeg Jets fans
Let’s use the New York Rangers as the totem for the above hypothetical. Their architecture mirrors that of the Winnipeg Jets: Vezina-caliber goalie, Norris-caliber defenseman, talent up front and middling blueline. They acquired Tarasenko, Mikkola, Motte and Kane at the deadline and yet suffered the same fate as the Jets. The Rangers, like the Avalanche and the Bruins, were universally seen as Cup contenders.
What does all this mean? As dangerous as it is to reflect in hindsight, the tendency is to be myopic (present company included) when looking at the Jets’ failures. Cries abound from writers in Tampa Bay, New York, and Boston calling to “blow it up” to help put into perspective the struggles NHL teams face – even the very successful ones. In short, we are not alone Winnipeg Jets fans.
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This doesn’t change the fact that a significant portion of the Jets roster are UFA’s after next season, or that the trust gap between the Jets players and coaching staff is the size of Montreal (where PLD will end up). But it does administer some Polysporin to the wounds. That and time – heals all.