Saturday, 6 July 2013

No Centerman Yet?

I'm not sure when this photo was taken of Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff having a laugh while on the phone, but I'm pretty certain it wasn't over the last couple of days. The Winnipeg Jets, who have repeatedly told their fans they will build through the draft, appear to be holding tight to that thought as the Jets added no one of significance through free agency through the opening two days. While there were a pile of depth players added who will most likely play their season out in St. John's, Winnipeg comes away from free agency still needing a solid second-line centerman to compliment Evander Kane.

So what gives? Do players simply not want to play in Winnipeg?

The Jets have a pile of restricted free agents to re-sign, so I get that they want to use a pile of that cap space to sign players, but why is Cheveldayoff having problems attracting free agents? And why did we not re-sign Mike Santorelli, picked up off waivers last year from Florida, after he came into Winnipeg and played his tail off? What's going on in the Jets' front office? Why have we not attracted a top-flight free agent?

"We are active in that regard," Cheveldayoff told Kirk Penton of QMI Agency. "There has been conversations that we have had and will continue to have for the different positions that might be available."

It appears that the centerman position on Kane's line will either be filled by Olli Jokinen or rookie Mark Scheifele at this point. Jokinen, though, never clicked with Kane last season, and there's little reason to believe that problem will have been fixed by the time the season opens this year. So that leaves Mark Scheifele, and there's a sense of optimism after his excellent OHL campaign with the Barrie Colts that he'll be able to crack the Jets' roster. He is a good setup man, but he's making the jump from junior to the NHL and that means there will be some pretty painful learning curves he'll experience along the way. It will be a trial by fire, but I'm confident that Scheifele should be able to weather that storm as best as rookies can.

Here's the problem, though. What bothers me is that there was one free agent on the free agency market that has incredible playmaking talent who could have easily slotted into the center position on that second line. That player was Mike Ribeiro, but he was signed by the Phoenix Coyotes for four years at $22 million. The Jets easily could have ponied up that money and not missed a beat. Ribeiro-to-Kane? I like the sound of that!

So what gives? Why are the Jets avoiding the opportunity to push this team higher in the short term while some of these draft picks - Scheifele, Petan, Lipon, and Morrissey - develop into the next wave of talent?

"We feel we’re a much better team today than we were entering the NHL entry draft with the two players we were able to acquire," Cheveldayoff told Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Jets traded for Devin Setoguchi who, potentially, could play opposite Evander Kane. That part doesn't really bother me as he has an expiring contract and could be a good piece of trade bait come the trade deadline when I am predicting that the Jets will not be in the playoff picture. He's a capable winger who scores goals, and that's always a help. The second player that Cheveldayoff is referring to is Michal Frolik, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks, who will most likely slot into the open roster spot that Nik Antropov once filled. Frolik is an upgrade over Antropov in this writer's opinion, but he's not going to pot 20 goals and 60 points from there.

So as for being a "much better team"? I suppose that Cheveldayoff has upgraded his forward ranks from last season, but there is still a lot missing. If neither Jokinen not Scheifele get the job done between Setoguchi and Kane, who fills that position? Is there anyone still available that the Jets can sign to fill that void?

After missing out on Ribeiro, I say there are still options. Nathan Gerbe, formerly of the Buffalo Sabres, would be an excellent signing, and would be useful on any of the Jets' top three lines. Mikhail Grabovski could be a nice addition if he comes in with a renewed commitment to scoring. Even going after a restricted free agent such as Cody Hodgson would be prudent considering that he's NHL-ready and he played well last season with the Sabres.

While I'm not saying that Cheveldayoff should break the bank and overpay for anyone to come to Winnipeg, I believe that any of those three would be a great signing to fill the hole at center ice between Kane and Setoguchi. I'm not sure how many calls Gerbe and Grabovski are fielding right now, but I'd be calling them. I'd be very interested.

While allowing the kids to develop is the proper way to build an excellent team, there's still a responsibility on the team to provide some sort of entertainment to the paying fans who have supported the team unconditionally. The only condition that fans need is a winning team, or at least a team that appears like it wants to win. Waiting for another three, four, or five years for these blue-chip picks to develop is something not many fans are willing to stomach as the Jets enter Season Three back in Winnipeg.

Go out and sign one of the three centermen listed above, Chevy. All three have NHL experience, something to prove, and a desire to win. That's already two factors better than Jokinen, and one major factor - NHL experience - better than Scheifele. And if either of those two suddenly clicks between Setoguchi and Kane? You still have a much better third line than you did before with the chosen free agent and Frolik being added in.

Take a chance on one of them, Chevy. The potential reward is worth any risk involved in signing any of them.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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