© Geoff Brookes
The Winnipeg Jets have declared themselves as “all in” on this hand of poker – which is the 2017-18 NHL season.
By signing Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice to multi-year extensions, they have removed any “excuses” from the players, coaches and general manager (to borrow an expression from Blake Wheeler, who recently said that “there are no more excuses”). No-one can argue that Paul Maurice was a “lame duck” coach, in the last year of his contract. No-one can say that either PoMo or Chevy don’t have the support of Mark Chipman.
To continue with the poker hand metaphor, the Jets have made three draws for this hand. They have stocked their hand with a couple of aces through the draft – maybe a few aces and a couple of face cards. The Jets now have a team of talented young players, with a star or two. Now its time to win the pot.
Wheeler expressed this a little differently, but he did mention “the pot”. The players understand this. Brian Little said that “it’s on the players”.
There is more at stake than points in the standings. In the first few seasons, it was still hard to get a single ticket for a game. You had to jump quickly when a few tickets became available on the afternoon of a game day. In the preseason of 2017-18, the Jets are already advertising mini-packs and individual game tickets for this upcoming hockey season. Last year, season ticket holders said that it was very difficult to sell tickets on the official Jets ticket exchange. How times have changed in a few short years. And if the Jets don’t have a real winning record (not the record skewed by OT victories and shootout wins), the fans are going to start to lose interest.
That very real possibility reminds me of a line from many years ago by a Vancouver sports writer, who said that the “Canucks were in the middle of a 29 year rebuilding program.” Jets fans know that they have a talented team. If it loses due to lack of discipline, a porous defence, bad goaltending or an ineffective penalty kill, then there will be an accounting, and there will be consequences – extension or not.
Fool me once – more fool you. Fool me twice – more fool me. It’s “go time” for the Jets. If PoMo is unable to get this team to win, then Chevy will not have a choice, realistically and practically.
The Jets have a window to win, and it starts on October 4, 2017. If they won’t win for Paul Maurice – who the players profess to admire greatly – then they will almost certainly have to find a way to win for some other head coach.
There is no way, in my opinion, that Jets’ ownership will tolerate another losing season, with phase 1 of True North Square coming to completion during 2018. They want to have a playoff run of some kind leading up to the completion of the beautiful square, with video displays, gathering places, and overhead walkways.
If the Jets lay another egg, their whole game plan becomes faulty. The downtown development is predicated on energy and population density. If hockey fans stop coming out to the games, and there’s no playoff dates, the synchronicity of True North’s plans is thrown badly off course. It will no longer be “on the beam”.
True North wants to build momentum year after year, during the early phases of this amazing downtown development. If you’ve seen the GIF of Mark Chipman and David Thomson celebrating the Jets shootout win over the Leafs a few years ago, then you have seen that they are very competitive guys. Don’t be deceived. Losing will not be tolerated.
I have already said – in one of my Jets blogs – that the Jets have indeed drafted well enough to build a Stanley Cup contender. Paul Maurice’s legacy as an NHL head coach may well rest on the team’s success (or lack thereof) in this upcoming season. If he can motivate the team (and its many young players) to play sound defensive hockey, and win hockey games, then his legacy will likely reflect his ability to teach and develop young players- to build them into a championship team.
If he fails, then all of his naysayers will have their own day, writing an alternative legacy of losses.
It’s your move, Paul. It’s time to show them what you’ve got in your hand.