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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jets Fans Inspiring Playoff Push

The great fans in Winnipeg are really having a tremendous effect on most of the Jet players, inspiring them to play with more effort and intensity. Last year the team (the Thrashers) did not commit themselves and subsequently they could not make a serious run at the playoffs—and by the way, sixteen of the most important players on the Thrashers are still with the team, as the Jets. Last year the Thrashers were brutal at home with a 17-17-7 record, while this year in Winnipeg the team is 23-10-4 thus far. The issue this year is that the Jets road record is poor at 11-19-4, and in fact it is significantly worse as compared to the Thrashers road record last year which was 17-19-5. Clearly, the home fans in Winnipeg are inspiring better efforts from the players, but I don’t know why some of the players are not exercising the same intensity on the road this year. Last year the Thrashers finished the season with 80 points which put them in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, and that record was 13 points short of the Rangers 93 points which earned them the 8th playoff spot. This year the Jets are battling hard to make the playoffs and they have an outside chance to fulfill their goal. As of Saturday, the Jets have 76 points in 71 games and that puts them in ninth position in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals hold the eight and final playoff spot with 78 points and they too have played 71 games. The Sabres lost in a shootout tonight against the Panthers and that almost seals the Panthers as being playoff-bound, while the Sabres get one point and tie the Jets with 76 points but have played one more game than the Jets. The Lightning lost so they are pretty much out of the picture.

Despite being only two points behind the Capitals, the Jets only have an outside chance of making the playoffs because seven of their remaining eleven games are on the road. Their road games will be against the Penguins, Capitals, Hurricanes, Predators, Lightning, Panthers and Islanders; and, their home games will be against the Lightning, Rangers, Hurricanes and Senators. The Jets can overcome the odds and I hope that they do because I would much rather watch them in the playoffs than Ovechkin and the Caps. The Jets will need to be even tighter defensively.

Jet Player Analysis

Let’s take a look at the players to see who is responsible for the improvement this year and who is a liability. The good news is that the Jets have some good young talent and with some changes before next year they should be better in 2012-2013.     

Evander Kane is having an excellent year and at 20 years old he should get much better. In his rookie season with the Thrashers, 2009-2010, he had 26 points in 66 games, and last year he improved by tallying 43 points in 73 games. This year he already has 50 points in 63 games and leads the team in goals with 28. He’s from British Columbia and was drafted in the 1st Round of the 2009 Entry Draft by the Thrashers, fourth overall. Kane provides good inspiration for his teammates and for a guy under 200 pounds he is pretty tough. Check out his fight with Matt Cooke of the Penguins by clicking the link below. Cooke started the issue and got his stick up so I guess he deserved what he got.

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Blake Wheeler is having the best year of his career and leads the Jets in points with 59, although, to be fair to Kane, Wheeler has played six more games and gets more ice time. Wheeler was drafted by Phoenix in the 1st Round of the 2004 Entry Draft, fifth overall, but strangely he never came to terms on an entry-level contract and four years later (after playing for the University of Minnesota) he went forth to sign with the Bruins. He had an outstanding rookie season in compiling 45 points in 81 games, and his plus-minus was incredible at plus-36. Wheeler’s sophomore year was not near as impressive and in his third year with the Bruins (last year) he was traded to the Thrashers after playing 58 games. The trade obviously agreed with him because he had 17 points in the final 23 games with the Thrashers. This year Wheeler has had the opportunity to have more ice time and to show what he can do. Before the start of this season Wheeler agreed to a two-year contract worth 5.1 million and he has come through on the ice. After next year he will be a restricted free agent so the Jets will have an opportunity to keep him if they choose to do so.

Bryan Little is having another solid year and he was another 1st Rounder, chosen 12th overall by the Thrashers in the 2006 Entry Draft. In 63 games he has 19 goals and 20 assists for 39 points. Last year he was outstanding, leading the team in plus-minus and also registering 48 points in 76 games. When you compare his plus-11 against his teammates you can see his value to the team: Ladd was minus-10, Kane was minus-12, Antropov was minus-17, Peverley was minus-16 (now with Bruins), Burmistrov was minus-12 and Bogosian was minus-27.

Kyle Wellwood has played extremely well for the Jets and this is his best year since his sophomore year with the Leafs in 2006-2007. Last year he played for the Sharks for 35 games and then went to the KHL for 25 games. The Jets signed him this past summer to a one-year contract and they are certainly getting their $700 000 worth since he has 41 points in 69 games and is plus-6. Wellwood will get a better contract next year whether with the Jets or another team. The Jets should reward him with at least a two year deal worth four million. 

Alexander Burmistrov is in his sophomore year and has improved from last year. He is only 20 years old and could develop into a very good player. He was another 1st Round pick by the Thrashers, and was selected eight overall in the 2010 Entry Draft. He has 28 points in 65 games. I hope he doesn’t eventually develop the “lack of effort syndrome” that leads to poor defensive play like Antropov has been guilty of in recent years. It really is a sign that the guy’s heart isn’t always in it. 

Andrew Ladd is a Stanley Cup winner with the Blackhawks in 2010. He was solid for the Hawks but not one of their key players and was traded because they were not going to be able to afford his services. His new contract with the Jets is for five years and 22 million. Honestly, for what he has done in his career the contract is about 7 million too much. He only has 42 points in 71 games and he is not a great player defensively. He was only plus-2 in the Stanley Cup season with the Blackhawks (while most of his teammates were far above that—see stats below in comments about Byfuglien) and last year with the Thrashers he was minus-10. Ladd is a good player but definitely not worth the money that he is being paid.

Dustin Byfuglien has major issues in the plus-minus department as compared to his teammates and his dedication and effort has been brought into question as well. The year he won the Cup with the Blackhawks he was one of the only two players in minus figures in the regular season and in fact he was the worst on the team at minus-7. Duncan Keith was plus-21 and had 35 more points than Byfuglien, Toews was plus-22, Sharp was plus-24, Hossa was plus-24, Kane was plus-16, Brian Campbell was plus-18 and Seabrook was plus-20. In the playoffs, Byfuglien almost matched Keith in points but he still had the worst plus-minus on the team at minus-4. You really can’t excuse his defensive problems because he has been a liability every year. Yet, to my amazement, he was rewarded with a five-year deal worth 26 million (which began this year). Nice gift!

Phaneuf for the Leafs is another defenseman who gets points but is poor defensively—extremely brutal—and grossly overpaid with a cap hit of $6 500 000. I lost count of the number of forwards on other teams who have gone around him this year.

Pavelec’s performance this year for the Jets has been almost as good as last year while Chris Mason has improved significantly. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and maybe that has something to do with it.

The Jets are weak on their third and fourth lines and they need to replace at least three players for next year, namely Tanner Glass, Jim Slater and Antti Miettinen. I would also try to get rid of Antropov.    

TJ Stanley