We are hours away from the Winnipeg Jets sixth season and its a time of new beginnings. It is also a time to recount what’s been accomplished since the Winnipeg Jets have establishing their own non-Atlanta Thrashers identity in the past five years. One word can summarize these years: Mediocrity.
A mediocrity that was inherited from the Atlanta Thrashers, who were a poorly run team that struggled to be competitive. The Jets too have not been competitive but we can fairly blame the Thrashers for this. Below is an explanation how the Winnipeg Jets are still paying a debt of mediocrity because the Thrashers were inept in drafting.
To start here is a season-by-season summary of the Atlanta Thrashers last five seasons before moving:
|2006–07||Eastern||Southeast||1st||82||43||28||11||97||246||245||4||0||4||6||17||Lost in Conference Quarterfinals vs. New York Rangers, 0–4|
|2007–08||Eastern||Southeast||4th||82||34||40||8||76||216||272||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
|2008–09||Eastern||Southeast||4th||82||35||41||6||76||257||280||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
|2009–10||Eastern||Southeast||2nd||82||35||34||13||83||234||256||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
|2010–11||Eastern||Southeast||4th||82||34||36||12||80||223||269||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
Now here is a season-by-season summary of the Winnipeg Jets first five seasons since moving:
|2011–12||Eastern||Southeast||4th||82||37||35||10||84||225||246||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
|2012–13||Eastern||Southeast||2nd||48||24||21||3||51||128||144||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
|2013–14||Western||Central||7th||82||37||35||10||84||227||237||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
|2014–15||Western||Central||5th||82||43||26||13||99||230||210||4||0||4||9||16||Lost First Round to Anaheim Ducks, 0–4|
|2015–16||Western||Central||7th||82||35||39||8||78||211||236||—||—||—||—||—||Did not qualify|
The seasons are not an exact match since the 2012-13 season was a lockout, but overall the standings are just a bit better for the Jets. There is a a better winning % of 52.39 for the Jets vs 50.24 for the Thrashers. What is remarkable is that there is a healthy decrease in Goals Against Per Game of 3.22 to 2.85 since the move. The Jets have improved but overall are not much better than the Thrashers.
So why is this? Because the Thrashers were absolutely terrible at drafting. Very few of their draft picks remained with the team and those that did, did not last long. The Thrashers drafted 107 players from 1999 up to 2010 and five years later only 8 (7.5%) players continue to play for the franchise. These players are:
2003 – Tobias Enstrom – A now declining defenceman who remains useful.
2005 – Ondrej Pavelec – The worst save percentage amongst all NHL starters for the past few years. Just demoted to AHL!
2006 – Bryan Little – Has been the best centreman the Jets have had up to now.
2007 – Paul Postma – Skillful but poor hockey smarts; has been unable to break into the lineup.
2009 – Ben Chiarot – Not as skilled as Postma and not as hockey smart either. Given more ice time than deserved.
2010 – Peter Stoykewych – Not signed to the Jets, instead playing on an AHL contract for Manitoba Moose.
2010 – Julian Melchiori – Appears to be a decent depth defencemen, biding his time in the AHL.
2010 – Alexander Burmistrov – Skilled, with good defensive awareness, but has some of the worst finishing of Jets forwards.
So despite twelve years of drafting, the Thrashers provide only two core players and six depth players to the Jets! Atlanta was unable to retain top players leading to poor team composition, poor depth, and a lack of internal competition. The bright spot is that the Thrashers made some decent trades that then became core Jets. With the exception of draft picks Little and Enstrom, it was Thrasher trades that helped form the past and recent core of the Jets (Ladd, Wheeler, and Byfuglien). Still, drafting is the only way teams can create long term player value.
At the minimum a NHL team needs to draft good to great players in the first round and then hope to strike gold in later rounds. The Thrashers failed on both accounts. When the Thrashers moved to Winnipeg there was no internal competition and really no player desire to win and improve. In some ways the Jets inherited a dysfunctional franchise that was not much better than an expansion franchise which would have at least been able to be properly molded from the beginning.
The Thrashers appear to have rushed players to play in the NHL, further undermining depth and any internal competition that helps teams to be successful. The last three picks by the Thrashers (2008, 2009, 2010) all seems to indicate issues with arrogance, maturity, and interpersonal issues. Below is a list of first picks in the first round for Atlanta. It does not include two later first round selections since their inclusion do not affect the overall conclusion that the Thrashers created a debt of talent for the Jets.
2010 – Alexander Burmistrov – A forward who is challenged to stay in top 9. Difficulties with previous coach. 275 GP
2009 – Evander Kane – A lightning rod of controversy and bad publicity. Has not lived up to his hype. 426 GP
2008 – Zach Bogosian – Injury plagued and there are some issues with consistency. 478 GP
2007 – Pick traded away
2006 – Bryan Little – An underrated but effective centreman. 617 GP
2005 – Alex Bourret – A complete bust player that never made the NHL. 0 GP
2004 – Boris Valabik – Another bust that played only one season in NHL. 80 GP
2003 – Braydon Coburn – A good defenceman traded away after 38 games. 806 GP
2002 – Kari Lehtonen – A capable starter goalie that was traded away after 206 games. 570 GP
2001 – Ilya Kovalchuk – An elite player that was lost after 371 games in a terrible trade. 848 GP
2000 – Dany Heatley – A very good player that was traded after 190 games because of off-ice tragedy. 756 GP
1999 – Patrik Stefan – A complete non-impact centreman limited by injuries. 414 GP
Wow. Eleven first round draft picks and very little sticking since 2003. Part of the reason it took the Jets 4 years to make the playoffs is because they had no first round picks capable of leading them. Kane brought distractions while Bogosian was not always effective, both being traded away in 2015. Burmistrov was unhappy and left to the KHL for two seasons. Coburn has had a good career but played somewhere else. Thrasher first rounder first picks sees only Bryan Little contributing in any way to the Jets core while the other first pick players were traded away for good and bad reasons. The Thrashers were a tire fire in drafting and retaining good talent.
Essentially the Jets had to start over and it has taken five years for the Jets to have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, creating the healthy internal competition that is the hallmark of successful franchises. It was not until 2013 that we see Jets draft picks starting to crack the lineup and begin to impact the team. This means that the Thrashers created a first pick talent gap of eleven years! From 2003 with Coburn being traded away to 2013 with the arrival of Scheifele and Trouba we see only Little as the lone core player sticking with today’s Jets.
Five years of Winnipeg Jets mediocrity now has an explanation – It was Thrasher ineptness in drafting and retaining talented, mature first picks that created a debt of draft talent. Has this come to an end? Can the Jets still blame the Thrashers for ongoing mediocrity? Thanks to the lucky draw of 2nd overall pick Patrik Laine and the ELC for Kyle Connor, and the debut of Ehlers, we are seeing elite talent now infusing the Jets. The debt has finally been paid and any future failure rests fully with the Players and Management.