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It’s beginning to look like something out of a horror movie. One directed by Peter Chiarelli or Pierre Dorion.
How else to explain the sudden fall from grace that the Winnipeg Jets are experiencing? At one time — and it wasn’t that long ago — this was one of the most promising teams in the NHL and Canada’s best bet to bring home a championship. Even The Hockey News expected big things, splashing a trio of Jets on the cover of its Future Watch magazine back in 2015 and boldly predicting a Stanley Cup parade in the next four years.
It, of course, didn’t happen. And today, with three of their best players still missing from training camp — and three other key pieces gone from the team for good — it looks like it won’t anytime soon.
This might sound a bit premature. After all, the start of the regular season is still more than a week away. Any day now, the Jets could announce that Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor have been signed to long-term contract extensions and that Dustin Byfuglien, who is on a personal leave of absence, is back with the team.
If so, expect the Jets to join the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs as Canada’s best chance of ending a 27-year championship drought.
But if not, well, the Jets won’t be anyone’s pick to win the Stanley Cup. Based on how things are transpiring in Winnipeg these days, it doesn’t even look like they will finish ahead of the Vancouver Canucks or Edmonton Oilers in the standings.
That’s how important Byfuglien, Laine and Connor are to the team’s success. And that’s how brutal of a summer it’s been in Winnipeg.
Those three players represent a No. 1 defenceman, a winger who scored 44 goals two years ago and another who finished with 34 goals last season. With training camp in full swing, none are anywhere to be found. And with the start of the regular season just around the corner, no one can be sure when or if any of them will arrive.
Byfuglien, who hasn’t skated much this summer, is reportedly contemplating walking away from the game. Laine, who told Finnish reporters that he is unhappy with his coach and linemate options, is training in Switzerland while awaiting a new contract. As for Connor, who is also a restricted free agent, there are reports that at least six teams are preparing offer sheets.
Losing any one of them would be a major blow to the Jets’ season, especially after the Jets said goodbye this summer to top-4 defenceman Tyler Myers and second-line centre Kevin Hayes and then traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers.
But losing all three? In a division as cutthroat as the Central, which includes St. Louis, Nashville, Colorado and Chicago, the season could be over before it even begins.
And so, with a week to go until the start of the season, the latest Canadian NHL team power rankings suddenly look like this:
And yes, Ottawa is rising. We can’t say the same for Winnipeg, who last season finished with 15 fewer points than the year before and with the current state of their roster looks anything like a team that will match the 99 points it recorded in 2018-19.
The NHL is all about windows of opportunity, which can open as quickly as they can close. The good teams are somehow always able to keep them cracked open, even if it’s just a sliver.
For years, it appeared that the Jets would be one of those teams. They had so much potential, so much promise. They had drafted and developed better than anyone. They were making steps towards something big. It was just a matter of time.
But piece-by-piece, the rebuild that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff worked so hard and long to complete appears to be coming undone.
Without Byfuglien, Laine and Connor, along with Trouba and Myers, it’s hard to imagine how Winnipeg will stay competitive. It’s hard to imagine the Jets not taking a step backwards. If so, it’s no one’s fault but their own.
This summer was a chance to make changes. Positive ones. The Jets knew they were going to lose Myers and Hayes to free agency and would have to trade Trouba, who has wanted to play in the U.S. to accommodate his wife’s career for some time now. But they didn’t have to lose them for nothing.
They needed help on defence. They needed a strong No. 2 centre. They needed to do something.
After all, it’s not like the teams around them stood pat.
Chicago added goalie Robin Lehner as insurance for Corey Crawford and beefed up its backend with the additions of Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan. Dallas signed Joe Pavelski and Nashville swapped out P.K. Subban for Matt Duchene, while Colorado added depth down the middle in the form of Nazem Kadri.
There’s no telling whether the moves will work or not, but at least those teams are trying.
What did the Jets do after losing to the Blues in the first round? Nothing. Well, they better do something now, whether that’s trading for Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen or Carolina’s Justin Faulk.
If not, this will no longer be Canada’s team anymore. Not with how well Calgary did in the regular season last year or how much more balanced Toronto’s roster looks after adding Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci to its defence. Even Vancouver took a shot at something special, by trading for J.T. Miller and signing Micheal Ferland.
The Jets, meanwhile, are in danger of letting their window slam shut. And if they’re not careful, it might not re-open anytime soon.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019