Entering 2012 the Winnipeg Jets were coming off a 10-3-1 record in December and at one point had risen as high as sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Winnipeg fans still giddy over the return of an NHL franchise to their city dared to dream the Jets could make the playoffs in their first season back.
January, however, hasn’t been kind to the Jets, as they sported a 3-6 record heading into their three games before the all-star break, dropping to 10th in the conference.
That’s raised concerns in the local media the Jets are poised to suffer another second-half swoon, similar to those of the past two seasons under their previous incarnation as the Atlanta Thrashers.
Last season, their problem was poor defensive play. They ranked among the worst teams in goals- and shots-against. This season, the Jets have improved in that department, sitting 17th in shots-against per game and 18th in goals-against per game.
Scoring has been a problem area. Winnipeg ranks 19th in goals per game, while its power play is 15th.
Injuries to offensive defensemen Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian, right winger Blake Wheeler (who returned Thursday), plus the inconsistent play of left winger Evander Kane, have been contributing factors to the Jets’ offensive troubles.
Gary Lawless of The Winnipeg Free Press considered the Jets’ numbers to be “subpar,” calling the team “inconsistent, too soft on the road and too short on talent to mount a legitimate playoff charge.”
Some observers are calling for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to trade assets for players who can keep the Jets in the playoff race, but Lawless pointed out team president Mark Chipman said Cheveldayoff won’t mortgage the club’s future on “quick fix” deals.
So much for rumors of the Jets bringing back Teemu Selanne or Shane Doan.
Lawless predicts Cheveldayoff will be a “seller” by the trade deadline, an opinion shared by Paul Friesen of The Winnipeg Sun.
Friesen believes the Jets’ “wish list” going forward will be to bolster their scoring and grit up front and expects that by mid-February Cheveldayoff will know for certain what moves to make.
If the Jets become sellers, don’t expect core players such as Kane, Wheeler, Byfuglien, Bogosian or right winger Andrew Ladd to be moved. Cheveldayoff will instead look at shipping out some of his pending unrestricted free agents, likely for draft picks and prospects.
Friesen listed defensemen Johnny Oduya and Randy Jones, along with center Kyle Wellwood, as the UFAs most likely to become trade candidates.
Waiting until mid-February to make moves will not only provide Cheveldayoff with sufficient time to evaluate his roster, but also allow the current roster time to prove it isn’t about to go into another season-killing swan dive.
The Jets sit only two points out of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals ahead of them in the standings.
If the Leafs and Capitals struggle in the coming weeks, and the Jets string a few more victories together, by mid-February they could find themselves back in the playoff picture.
That could turn Cheveldayoff from a “seller” into a “buyer,” albeit one who won’t overspend on playoff rental players.
How the Jets perform between now and mid-February will determine their course of action by trade deadline day.
Rumor Focus appears Tuesdays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.