The Winnipeg Jets are stuck at a crossroads.
The team is well past the point of using the excuse of “being new” to justify its performance. Management of this club must make a decision about whether the Jets will compete this season for a playoff spot or whether or not to sell its few assets to contending teams while they still hold value.
The Jets have two cornerstone pieces to build around - Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. Neither of the two players can drink in the United States legally, but this is a good thing. Both these players were drafted in the top ten and look like they will be solid pieces for years to come. These guys continuously bring it night in and night out and are asked to play key minutes.
There are two approaches the Jets can take regarding this season if they truly are ready to evaluate themselves honestly.
The first being to continue to tell this team’s fan base and roster that this group has the tools and ability to not only make the playoffs, but go deep into them.
The second option is to accept the blunt fact that this group of assembled players has nowhere near what it takes to contend for a championship, let alone a playoff spot. There are serious leadership and high-end talent questions.
Having said that, there is a foundation in place with the aforementioned youngsters. One thing to consider is this team is possibly good enough to at least fight for a playoff spot all season, but therein lies the problem. With the NHL’s salary cap structure it’s hard to succeed by turning over your roster quickly. While battling for a playoff spot all year would be thrilling for both fans and media, the likelihood of finishing around 6-10 points back, as they’ve done in every season since returning, will spin them down a cycle of mediocrity that will be hard to ever escape.
To finish with a top-five draft pick or to battle all season for a playoff spot that will be very difficult to achieve is what they are now facing. The former will not be popular amongst fans or even players in the short term, but the only way to achieve long-term success for this team will be to trade away the veterans (including Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, and even captain Andrew Ladd) this season while they still hold value.
Two hot NHL prospects, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, are at the top of every scout’s draft list and have been compared to future legends Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon. These are franchise-changing young players who would step in and immediately contribute to the Jets lineup.
This is an opportunity, albeit one not without risk, for the team to sacrifice its mediocrity and a potential one-week playoff run for a chance at a player that could ultimately one day be part of bringing the Stanley Cup to Winnipeg.
Kieran Rice-Lampert went to Gordon Bell High School and currently studies at the University of Manitoba. He is a political junkie and enjoys staying on top of current issues and sports.