Wednesday, 12 March 2014

They're Done

Tonight's game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Winnipeg Jets was a showcase for the teams that were in the race before the Sochi Olympic break, and then proceeded to crash and burn down the stretch. It's one thing to fade down the stretch because key players are injured or unavailable, but it's entirely another thing when these two teams had virtually everyone healthy and then proceeded to fall off the map. While they went in different directions at the trade deadline, the end result for both teams will be the same: neither will be playing hockey in May.

Thanks to the annual Alberta cellar tour, it will be the first time since 1978 that no team from western Canada participates in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Jets and Canucks have done their best to tease their fans, sitting no more than two points out of a playoff spot before the Olympics. Today, both teams need some help to get back into the playoff picture. After tonight's final, Vancouver sits four points back of Dallas while Winnipeg sits five back. Dallas, meanwhile, has three games in-hand over Vancouver and two over Winnipeg. In other words, it's an uphill battle for both teams.

Vancouver decided that their rebuild started at the trade deadline as they swapped Roberto Luongo to the Panthers for spare parts. Expect more changes to happen this summer as the window on winning the Stanley Cup was officially slammed shut by Mike Gillis with the trade of Luongo. I can't see players like the Sedins, Kevin Bieksa, and Alex Edler remaining with the club as they look to retool and add to their farm system with prospects and picks.

While Vancouver does have some decent talent still in its system and on its roster, they will struggle to make the playoffs next season as well. There really aren't any bright spots to highlight in Utica this season as the Canucks have promoted most of their young talent to cover for players who are injured or suspended. It's going to take some time to restock the cupboards in Vancouver, and that rebuild is in its initial stages.

Winnipeg, on the other hand, stood firm at the trade deadline, failing to move pieces that were rumoured to be on their way out. The team's mantra is to build from within, but there were needs that had to be filled if the Jets were to continue their torrid pace down the stretch as they had before the Olympic break. Mark Scheifele's injury was a glaring problem for most fans, yet GM Kevin Cheveldayoff refused to fill that hole that was left in the lineup.

"A lot of people would love to look at the fact that we didn't make a big deadline acquisition as a failure," Cheveldayoff said. "A lot would look at the glass half-full and say, 'They didn't sit there and sell. They believe that this group has earned the opportunity to try and move forward.'"

The thing I don't understand is that the Edmonton Oilers have been dangling Sam Gagner, a centerman, in front of any team that will listen. I'm not sure what the asking price was for Gagner, but there would probably be a decent pick needed to even open the discussions. Toss in another player like Dustin Byfuglien or Devin Setoguchi, and we might have a trade on our hands. With Olli Jokinen heading for free agency at the end of the season, having a player like Gagner - who is younger and is a better scorer - under contract would protect the Jets if Jokinen were to accept an offer elsewhere. Yet Cheveldayoff sat on his hands, unwilling to trade for a good, young player that would help in the immediate future and down the line.

"We had basically set some internal parameters on forward position and then today on center position," Cheveldayoff said. "It wasn't so much about the prices, it was the availability. Not a lot of centers of the quality that certainly we were going to need to replace Mark's production or fit into the mix or the type of player we were going to look for."

Sam Gagner wasn't of that quality? The Oilers basically gave Ales Hemsky away to Ottawa, so why not try to swing a deal? I fail to understand how the Jets thought they were going to continue their excellent run towards a playoff spot when (a) all the teams above them added talent and scoring and (b) the Jets actually took steps back by losing and not replacing Mark Scheifele.

"There were some deals on the table that we were in there until the 11th hour, but for whatever reason, whether it was positioning of picks or different things like that..." Cheveldayoff said. "At the end of the day, we were in some things and we were very aggressive in trying to make it happen, but again within certain parameters we set within our group."

See, I don't believe that the Jets were in any discussion until the 11th hour for any player. If Cheveldayoff was truly aggressive, we wouldn't be discussing why the Jets are going to miss the playoffs yet again. And it's not like the Jets are in a rebuild. Heck, they're supposed to be improving as this current core of players hits their hockey primes. Instead, the Jets will end up picking in the later portion of the top-ten picks at this year's NHL Entry Draft because Cheveldayoff simply couldn't part with a third-round pick.

It's a rough day for the Canadian squads in the west. Neither the Canucks nor Jets are armed for a playoff run when compared to the improved Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and Los Angeles Kings. The Flames, Oilers, Canucks, and Jets will miss the playoffs this season, meaning our late games on Hockey Night in Canada will be played in places like Denver, Anaheim, San Jose, and Los Angeles. Doesn't seem right in saying that, does it?

One team is currently in a rebuild, and it is pretty apparent that the Canucks willing to work through the growing pains of a rebuild. If done properly, they could be back in the hunt for a playoff spot in a few years. The Jets, however, seem to be a broken record as they push for a playoff spot with two-thirds of the season to play only to crash and burn when they to put points on the board. It's been three years running and fans being told that this team has what it takes, and yet Winnipeg fans have yet to see playoff hockey in their building despite having an "improving team" and the right pieces in place to make a run.

Doesn't seem right in saying that, does it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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