When the Atlanta Thrashers picked up and moved their operation to Winnipeg after the 2010-11 season, it was pretty obvious that simply changing the name wasn't going to be enough to alter the fortunes of the hapless team on the ice.
The team needed a top-to-bottom overhaul if the reincarnated Jets were going to be anything more than the Canadian version of the Thrashers.
Enter Kevin Cheveldayoff, the man that was tasked with rebuilding an organization that in 11 years had made the playoffs one time and never won even a single postseason game. As the Jets now prepare to enter their fourth season in Winnipeg, their rabid fans are still waiting for a playoff appearance.
With two months to go before the puck drops on the 2014-15 season, which will be Cheveldayoff's fourth running the show in Winnipeg, there is still time to make some changes to the roster. But as it stands, the Jets seem prepared to enter the season with almost the exact same team that ended last season.
And if you recall, last season did not go very well.
@b1rky The Jets are counting on Mathieu Perreault alone to go from last place to playoffs. 22 of 23 on roster were Jets in April 2014.— Jesse Klassen (@jessek_86) July 30, 2014
The only changes -- as of now -- were bringing in Perreault to replace Olli Jokinen, who signed a one-year contract in free agency with the Nashville Predators, signing depth forward TJ Galiardi to a free agent contract, and allowing Michael Hutchinson to take over the backup goalie job from Al Montoya.
And that's it. That is how the Winnipeg Jets have spent their summer vacation.
On its own, it is a stunning lack of activity from a team that finished with the ninth worst record in the league and missed the playoffs by six points. But when you look at how little the Jets roster has changed since they left Atlanta, where they were one of the least successful franchises of the modern era, it's enough to make you wonder not only what exactly it is Cheveldayoff and the front office does all day, but also what their plan is to improve the team.
12 of the Jets under contract for the upcoming season -- more than half of the roster -- played for team during its final season in Atlanta. In a sport where rosters get turned over with regularity, that's a large number of players that have been together for four seasons.
I went back and looked at the other six Eastern Conference teams that missed the playoffs during the 2010-11 season -- teams that would have incentive to change their roster in an effort to get better -- and how many of those players remained with the team heading into 2014-15. None of them had more than seven. The Florida Panthers, as one extreme example, only have one player (defenseman Dmitry Kulikov) that played for the team in '10-11.
In some cases, the returning players make sense.
The Jets would have to be insane to get rid of a player as good as Evander Kane. Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd are excellent two-way forwards and very underrated around the league, and the same is true for Dustin Byfuglien, a wildly productive player that gets crushed for how he looks instead of praised for how much he produces.
It's their commitment to players like Chris Thorburn, Jim Slater, Mark Stuart and most especially Ondrej Pavelec that raises questions about what is happening in Winnipeg.
It's their inability to complete any sort of transaction that might bring in an impact player from outside the organization that keeps the team stuck in its constant state of mediocrity.
Since Cheveldayoff has been in control of the team, here's their full history of roster movement:
- They have signed only three free agents to contracts longer than one year: Olli Jokinen (two years), Antti Miettinen (two years) and the aforementioned Perrault signing (three years). The only other free agent signings included the likes of Tanner Glass, Randy Jones, Kyle Wellwood, Derek Meech and Alexei Ponikarovsky on one-year deals.
- They have completed just 15 trades, with only five of them bringing a player to Winnipeg that appeared in an NHL game for the team: Eric Fehr (35 games), Eric Tangradi (91 games), Michael Frolik (81 games), Devin Setoguchi (75 games), Kenndal McArdle (9 games). That group of players combined for only 32 goals.
- Of those 15 trades, only nine of them involved the Jets giving up a player from the organization. The other six trades involved only draft picks. Only three of those players actually appeared in a game for the Jets (Ponikarovsky, Johnny Oduya and Spence Machacek) before they were traded. The other six were either marginal or failed prospects.
- Not one of those trades involved the Jets and another team swapping NHL players.
- They seem committed to trying to rebuild through the draft, but the Jets have only acquired nine draft picks (while also trading away nine). They have not acquired any additional first-round picks, while only one of the nine picks they acquired was higher than the third round (a second-round pick as part of the trade that sent Johnny Oduya to Chicago).
How does a team get better with that sort of roster movement? As the Jets have shown over the past three years, it doesn't.
It's not that any of the moves they did complete were obvious mistakes. It's that they haven't done anything of any consequence to make the team even marginally better or worse, and sometimes that is the worst move of all. At least if you do something drastic and move the team in the wrong direction, you might unintentionally sabotage a season or two and end up in the lottery where you can land a true franchise player.
But they haven't even done that.
They seem content to just stumble along in their constant state of mediocrity hoping that, maybe, something will change and all of the average players will suddenly become good players.
They are, quite simply, the least exciting team in the NHL.