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At the time of this writing, the Winnipeg Jets sit at the top of the NHL’s Southeast Division, placing them third in the Eastern Conference standings.
It’s a good spot to be in, but don’t let it fool you - they’re not that good.
Before you start screaming “True North” at me, let’s break it down.
Besides the terrific play of forward Blake Wheeler, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and a career season from captain Andrew Ladd - not to mention occasional offensive brilliance from Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane - no other Jet has really stood out, unless of course, it’s for negative reasons.
Oh sure, there are a few steady Freddies - defencemen Mark Stuart, Ron Hainsey and Zack Bogosian - but the rest of the lineup has been nothing short of disappointing.
With only four goals, Bryan Little’s 31-goal season in 2008-09 is starting to look like a fluke.
Hell, you could say the same thing about his 13-goal 2009-10 season.
Veteran Olli Jokinen has a total of nine points, putting him on pace for the worst offensive season of his career. This is a guy who scored 23 goals and 61 points with the Calgary Flames just one year ago.
And then there’s Alexander Burmistrov.
The young Russian forward is a natural talent; he skates beautifully and possesses a pair of super soft hands.
Still, his mushy mitts have only been good for seven points in 27 games, not enough for a third-year pro who’s in the NHL for one reason only: to provide offence.
Jets coach Claude Noël thinks so too as Burmistrov has been a healthy scratch for several games.
Given the looming trade deadline, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would be smart to start shopping Burmistrov.
If he can’t play on one of the top two scoring lines, Burmistrov is useless to the Jets. He’s not a third line checker, he’s a scorer, one who can’t score, and he needs to go.
Surely, some desperate team will be attracted by his potential and surrender a draft pick or maybe even some decent secondary scoring help, something the Jets sorely need.
How about teaching Byfuglien to play defence? His defensive zone gaffes are constantly shrugged off as, “Well, that’s just what you get with Big Buff.”
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Byfuglien joining the rush, taking chances in the offensive zone and even acting as a forward from time to time.
It’s when he’s behind his own net, under pressure and decides to throw the puck straight up the middle, something he did twice in the same shift versus the Panthers on March 8.
Yes, he scored the overtime winner in that same game, so all was forgiven.
But guess what? He makes these stupid mistakes every single night and he’s not always the hero.
Why can’t this dude play defence? He’s a big body - shit, he’s Big Buff.
If I’m Noël, I’m forcing Byfuglien to constantly watch video of 6 ft 9 Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chára in action, showing him how to effectively use his immense stature to improve his defensive game.
Unfortunately for the Jets, there are no quick fixes. A small market team, they can’t afford big free agent signings or blockbuster trades.
If they are to improve, it will have to come from within the organization, meaning either minor transactions, improved play from their existing players or help from the farm.
Unfortunately, nobody on the St. John’s IceCaps - the Jets AHL affiliate - looks that good, save for centreman Eric O’Dell.
Basically, that Scheifele kid better be the real deal.
Part of the series: The Urban Issue 2013
Published in Volume 67, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 28, 2013)