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Photo Credit: James Carey Lauder - USA TODAY Sports

What Can We Learn – Winnipeg Jets

After a brief hiatus due to multiple days off before Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals and the Mothers Day weekend, we conclude the “What Can We Learn” series with a look at the final team to make the final four, the Winnipeg Jets.

The final Canadian team in the playoffs is already up 1-0 in the Conference Finals and looked the part of a team that is going to make their way to the finals. It’s been a long and slow road for the Jets to get to this point, but they appear to be built to sustain this level for play for a few years to come.

In case you missed it, you can read about the things we can learn from Tampa Bay here, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights here, and the Washington Capitals can be found here.

Hit those first round picks

The Jets have been patient with their draft picks and have been extremely proficient with their first round selections. Their first round selections since moving to Winnipeg have been – Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine, Logan Stanley, and Kristian Vesalainen.

Roslovic has been a depth forward in the playoffs but almost certainly will be a part of the Jets group going forward.  Stanley is a bit of a debatable pick but they got Laine earlier in that draft and the tall defenceman is still trending towards being an NHL defenceman after a breakout second half of the season with Kitchener. Vesalainen will be just another great forward to slot into this lineup soon enough.

When looking back, it’s really impressive to see how well the Jets have done with their first round pick specifically and they form a large part of their success this season. If an organization can avoid the pitfalls AND extract tremendous talent it will go a long way to improving your organization.

They’ve been able to support that group with other later round draft picks but with the elite talent grabbed in the first round, they’ve quickly vaulted themselves up the NHL power rankings.

Winning the lottery to get Laine was a huge boon that likely sped up the entire process, but sometimes you have to get lucky.

Patience is Key

Trust the process.

Jets fans were lamenting the Jets lack of assertiveness on speeding up the development of this team but those cries have been quieter with the Jets just three wins away from making the Stanley Cup Finals.

It’s understandable WHY those fans were vocal and upset about the lack of making moves to help the core. The organization had not won a single playoff game since moving to Manitoba and the honeymoon period had worn off.

But they slowly built up the core that they have and didn’t rush it. Here is a clear breakdown of how the Jets broke down before the playoffs started:

That much draft talent takes a few years to accumulate and extra picks in the later rounds. The 2016 draft was the only draft in which the Jets had less than the 7 allotted picks, and that was because they traded their 7th round pick that year for a 2017 7th round pick.

Stay Away from Free Agency

Looking at the Jets salary cap structure, the Jets aren’t locked down to any contracts that were signed during the fever of the free agent market in early July. Yes, they do have Steve Mason signed for $4.1M next season and it’s looking like a bad deal but it’s short term and not exactly hindering. The Kulikov deal is not a good deal either, but it’s three years and just slightly above league average.

But the team is the term and the reasonable cap hit.

Every year the organization has a major contract coming off the books to ensure that they have enough cap space and flexibility to sign their young players to long term deals at a digestible value. Nikolaj Ehlers deal is a prime example of that.

They’ve committed their money to the stars that they have within their system and appear to be hoping that players like Vesalainen will fill in the depth scoring roles in years to come.

Using free agency to fill in your minor lineup holes is an effective way to ensure that you don’t get yourself in a bind, don’t suffer opportunity cost during the season, and allows you to lock up those players.

This theme runs through all four of the conference finalists – they’ve used the July 1 free agency as an opportunity to add role players, veteran leadership and physicality without committing to long term deals.

Free agents might’ve shied away from Winnipeg and that plays a part in the organization being completely void of these hampering contracts but credit to the management team for avoiding the desire to ‘overpay’ to bring someone there in the past. That reluctance to head to Winnipeg may evaporate with the recent success, so it will be important to remain strong on this front.

Size does Matter

This silly blogger said size doesn’t matter in a previous post and everyone pointed to the Jets (among a few others) as the counter argument. Which just reinforced the original point that was made – that size matters and should be something that you need to be aware of but not something that should be prioritized over skill.

The Jets have done a fantastic job of drafting players with high skill levels and have been able to add a few of those highly skilled players that aren’t small. Connor, Laine, Wheeler, and Scheifele are big bodied players who use their size effectively but are really good at hockey. They have some more slight players in Ehlers and Roslovic who slide in and give the Jets the speed and playmaking abilities to be successful.

If there has been one selection in the first round for the Jets that is hotly contested, it’s Logan Stanley. His Elite Prospects scouting report starts as follows:

Stanley is a huge defensive minded defenceman. He loves to play physical and clear the crease, but also can chip in offensively when needed

Any time a scouting reports starts with ‘he has size’ or is huge, that should be a red flag. Use free agency to add that size for your bottom six or draft skill and then use that asset to trade for things you feel you need.

Size matters in the greater scope and is part of the reason why the Jets have been successful this season but they have got here based on their skill.

For arguments sake, Dustin Byfuglian, Blake Wheeler and Tyler Myers make up a large part of that ‘size’ that the Jets possess. Take those away, replace them with average sized players, and the Jets would fall from one of the bigger teams to middle of the pack.

Conclusion

I remember when The Hockey News put out this cover for their annual Future Watch:

It was mocked in quite a few circles as the slow and steady Jets weren’t anywhere near the team they are now. A lottery win, some patience, Connor Hellebuyck emerging as a number one goalie and some luck in the playoffs and the Jets are seven wins away from hoisting the cup a year before this bold prediction.

The major takeaways from the Jets path is their proficiency on the draft floor, particularly in the first round, patience with that core, and avoiding the free agent market.

Even if the Jets are unable to capture the prize this year, they will be a contender in the west for the next few years. After that, just a little more luck and the Stanley Cup may be making its way to Manitoba.

    • LiborPolasek

      Moving up the 2016 draft (Laine) was a big stroke of luck for the Jets but Cheveldayoff and his staff deserves alot of credit for the process they follow to build there rosters. But I still believe that the play of there Goalie had trully been the difference because of the importance of the goalie position in Hockey…

  • 1) Winnipeg had a lot of good players in their prime or just starting to enter their prime (Ladd, Byfuglien, Enstrom, Little, Kane, Wheeler, Bogosian) so Cheveldayoff had players around which he could build a core or flip for decent returns (e.g. 1st round draft picks, top 4 defenders).

    2) Even with that asset pool, it still took Winnipeg 7 years to get to this point so people need to be more patient with Benning.

    3) Winnipeg got lucky to get Laine but didn’t tank to get it (they were 25th and get a win in the lottery). There are no #1 overall picks in the line-up.

    Bottom line: Building through the draft without tanking works. It helps when you start with a *group* of core players and have surplus players that you can trade away for *good* future assets. Building a competitive team takes time and can’t be solved through unrealistic armchair trades.

  • wojohowitz

    Patience indeed. In the past ten seasons (Atlanta/Winnipeg) they made the playoffs once (2014-15) and lost in the first round.

    In one example of lazy media not pursuing the story is how Maurice lost his job in Carolina to Laviolette who won the Stanley Cup the next season so beating Nashville must have brought some personal satisfaction.

    • Dirk22

      Hold on a sec. I was told over and over that not making the playoffs over and over again created a ‘losing atmosphere.’ I was told that players need to play in meaningful games and that’s why veterans were brought in. It’s almost as if when you get good players your team starts winning and then you have a ‘winning atmosphere.’ Crazy.

      • Kootenaydude

        Dirk I truly believe the only reason the Canucks have tried to ice a competitive team over the last few years was just to put people in the seats and money in the bank. After watching that fail. The Canucks finally started to rebuild when they traded Burrows and Hanson. At least we have an owner the spends to the cap. Unfortunately we have a GM that’s pretty good at drafting but not so good at choosing UFAs.

  • myshkin

    winnipeg is a truly excellent team. the only cloud i see on their horizon is the salary cap and maybe hellebuyck is having a career year and won’t be able to sustain his brilliance. i’m very happy that the jets have out performed the leafs.

  • Ummmm.. really

    So, miss the playoffs 6 out of 7 years, keep the management team intact and don’t judge draft picks until they’re about 23 or 24 years old…. I guess we will hear about the “Winnipeg Model” from all the d-bag talking heads in the so called sports media insiders world now. But if fans can’t demand daily trades and weekly firings, what will the point be of visiting Canucks hockey blogs? Don’t fight against the fans actual demands for the “Mike Milbury era Islanders model”… Just imagine the daily Canucks excitement that would happen…

    • LAKID

      Ummmm…really and the Jets are playing in the Semi- finals. The Vancouver Canucks are 6-10 years away from a sniff at a playoff spot. The Nuks are the new cellar dwellars and when Seattle comes in the fans will leave to a better team.

      • Kootenaydude

        Lakid too much up and coming talent. Canucks will be back in the playoffs 3 years from now. Teams like Edmonton, Anaheim and Las Angeles with their $10,000,000 contracts are the new cellar dwellers.

      • Ummmm.. really

        Come on LAKID, I am really disappointed… You really just mailed in that troll and you know you can do better. So, next time try a little harder because I expect more creativity than that from you……

      • DJ_44

        Dude, you are suffering from the Edmonton version of Stokholm syndrome. The “Edmonton model” is often mentioned and a cautious tale of disaster and wow. The league learns from Edmonton’s mistakes…and more mistakes….

  • Kootenaydude

    You got to give Winnipeg credit. They built a contender even with their team being on every players no trade list. It’s part of the reason it took so long to build a contender. They played small and slow last night. Hopefully they get back a little bit of their nastiness for the next game in Vegas!! Great line up of players top to bottom. Getting Big Buff to sign was expensive but worth it come playoff time. Canucks need to sign some more quality local players.