The Winnipeg Jets cleaned out their lockers on Friday and some of them might have said “Good-bye,” for the final time.
After losing Game 4 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Western Conference quarter-final to the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night, the Jets were swept out of the playoffs.
As GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said yesterday, “You have to earn your spot in the playoffs. It isn’t given to you,” ad the Jets certainly earned it this season with a 99-point campaign. However, that’s cold comfort for the players and their passionate fans today. As the Jets cleaned out their lockers and prepared to head East to Czech Republic or West to Vancouver, they all praised the support they were given this season.
“Overall, (the playoff series with Anaheim) was extremely disappointing, but it was a great experience,” said Jets defenseman and team leader Mark Stuart. “Especially to come back here to Winnipeg and play those last two games and have the crowd the way it was, as a player it’s something you’ll never forget.”
For team captain Andrew Ladd, the atmosphere inside MTS Centre on Wednesday was something he’ll never forget. And that says a lot coming from a guy who has already won two Stanley Cups.
“Yeah, it was incredible,” Ladd said. “We take our hats off to those fans. They’ve been great the entire year but it was at a whole new level for these last two games. At they end, when they stood and gave us that ovation, I can tell you we appreciate that in here.
“We understand that they put their heart and soul into this hockey team and their hard-eared money into watching us play, but they should know that it’s definitely appreciated in here. It gets you going. That’s the special thing about our crowd and how involved they are.”
Head coach Paul Maurice believes Winnipeg is probably the only place in the NHL where the fans respond the way they do.
“You’re not going to get that in a regular season game, but we get it more than anybody else,” said Maurice. “I do believe, and I’ll say this as much just from people that I talk to on the street, people that will come up to you and talk about your hockey team — that they did appreciate the effort. We’re going to try and make things better next year, beyond our effort. But there was an appreciation there, the fans showed it in the playoffs.
“I’d like to have them cheering at the end of the game for a different reason, but we weren’t able to that. But that was special, the players appreciate it — they appreciated it in game one. Just the number of unsolicited comments by the players today about how great that was. I certainly appreciated the end of the game, it wasn’t the result we wanted. It wasn’t the series that we wanted to give our fans, but I thought it was great.”
As we mentioned here at mytoba.ca this morning, now that the Winnipeg Jets’ 2014-15 season has come to an end, the Jets brass will turn its attention to the two big responsibilities of summer – the NHL draft (June 25-26 in Sunrise, Fla.) and the re-signing of free-agent players already on the roster.
The Jets have eight unrestricted free agents – forwards Drew Stafford, Michael Frolik, Jiri Tlusty, TJ Galiardi, Jim Slater, Lee Stempniak and Matt Halischuk and defenseman Adam Pardy. The team also had five restricted free agents – Eric O’Dell, Anthony Peluso, Paul Postma, Keaton Ellerby and Ben Chiarot.
The Jets also have four unrestricted free agents coming up in the summer of 2016 – Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Grant Clitsome and Jay Harrison. There are aso two restricted free agents – Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele. Will deals be made to get something in return for future free agents. These are all decisions the brass has to make between now and June 25.
Let’s start in goal. Do the Jets want to ride Ondrej Pavelec, 27, a good NHL goaltender, but not a great one, or open it up to the youngsters, Michael Hutchinson, 25, who carried the Jets for most of the season, and Connor Hellebuyck, 21, who just joined Team USA for the 2015 World Championships? Knowing how much Kevin Cheveldayoff likes Pavelec from their days with the Chicago Wolves, assume Pavy will be back.
On defense, the Jets have 11 defencemen on the roster, and seven of whom are under contract next season: Toby Enstrom, 30, Dustin Byfuglien, 30, Tyler Myers, 25, Mark Stuart, 30, Grant Clitsome, 30, Jacob Trouba 21, and Jay Harrison, 32.
That list doesn’t include restricted free agents Ben Chiarot, 23, Paul Postma 26, and Keaton Ellerby, 26, or 2013 first-rounder Josh Morrissey 20, who will very likely be with the team when it breaks camp next October.
Enstrom was not good during the playoffs. He was either rag-dolled in front of the net or taken off the puck in the corners. Byfuglien is a free agent on July 1, 2016 and Cheveldayoff might look at moving him for a younger player or two or even draft choices, before he moves on to free-agency.
Up front, the Jets big line is back – Bryan Little, 27, Blake Wheeler, 28, and Andrew Ladd, 29. Michael Frolik said on Friday that he liked Winnipeg, but will look seriously at free agency this summer. “It’s the only real chance you get,” said the 27-year-old Frolik.
Stafford, who will be 30, is a free agent and while the Jets would love to have him back, they won’t over-pay. Tlusty, 27, Galiardi, 27, Slater, 33, Peluso, 26, O’Dell, 25, Stempniak 32, and Halischuk, 27,are probably gone, although, Cheveldayoff might try to keep Stempniak if he can. It’s also very likely that the youngsters in the organization — Nik Ehlers, 19, Nic Petan, 20, Chase De Leo, 19, Jan Kostalek, 20, Joel Armia, 22, Brendan Lemieux, 19, and Andrew Copp, 20 — will all get serious opportunities in training camp.
Mark Scheifele, 22, Adam Lowry, 22, and Mathieu Perreault, 27, should be fixtures in Winnipeg for years to come. Fact is, the Jets have a very bright future.
“I like our core group, I really do,” said Cheveldayoff yesterday. “But things will come up this summer that change our look in a number of different ways. We have eight free agents and some will stay with us and some won’t. We also might run into an opportunity or two to make trades. Those opportunities will present themselves and we’ll have to decide what we want to do. But I’m looking forward to our off-season and looking forward to having our core group back next season.”