Sunday, 1 July 2012

Lots Of Cap Room, But No Buys?

I had high hopes that the Jets would go out and make a splash on free agency day by signing a solid, scoring winger, adding a capable backup goaltender, and maybe signing a quality centerman while adding some grit, toughness, and leadership. And to my surprise, all the Jets did was let two capable backup goalies sign elsewhere, allow a great shot blocker and hustle guy walk, and bring in the Poni. Alexei Ponikarovsky. This might be a long season.

I get that the Jets signed two St. John's IceCaps in Jason King and Derek Meech, but the big news was Ponikarovsky. The 32 year-old winger signed a one-year deal for $1.8 million with the Jets after a run with the Stanley Cup runner-up New Jersey Devils last season. He spoke about getting a chance to play with Nik Antropov again, and the Jets' brass seems to feel that Ponikarovsky could finally notch that elusive 30-goal season if he gets his chances.

But therein lies the problem. Ponikarovsky has had a number of chances to reach that mark, but stops made in Toronto, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Carolina, and New Jersey have resulted in nothing more than missed opportunity to be "the guy". While he has size and can skate well, Ponikarovsky has never put the two together effectively to become a solid power forward. Only five times has the winger notched 20 goals in his career. He's not exactly the scoring punch that the Jets desperately needed at times last season.

However, the Jets will pencil Ponikarovsky into the lineup, possibly replacing Tanner Glass who chose to sign with Pittsburgh despite his popularity in Winnipeg. Glass accepted a two-year deal worth $2.2 million, and it was reportedly less than what the Jets offered. However, the appeal of the Stanley Cup is far more attractive to some players than the dollar signs.

"A hockey player's career is not very long and I got a taste of (chasing a title) in Vancouver with a really good team," Glass told Winnipeg Free Press reporter Ed Tait. "You get close and you realize how hard it is. So when you get a chance to play on an elite team with some of the best players in the world... for me, this is the best fit right now."

Couple the loss of Glass with the loss of backup goaltender Chris Mason, and the team lost two veteran players that Winnipeggers really wanted back. For Mason, the chance to go back to Nashville for a shorter term and less money seems to have some sort of silver lining on it. After all, does Nashville really need a 36 year-old goaltender to back up Vezina nominee Pekka Rinne?

Personally, I believe that there may be a front-office or coaching position for Mason with the Predators if he retires after next season. He'd be 37 years-old, and he's close to being back home in Atlanta where his kids were going to school. It seems as though the signing just puts him closer where his family was starting.

In short, the Jets really did nothing to improve their team at the start of free agency. They signed Ponikarovsky, lost Glass, lost Mason, and saw Jonas Gustavsson ink a deal with Detroit. However, the Jets also missed out on signing Jordin Tootoo - another player they were pursuing - to the Red Wings as well. The option to win over the option to make more money is starting to show with the players that Winnipeg was pursuing, and the only way that those players are going to come to Winnipeg is by overpaying for their services.

This fact cannot be overlooked when looking at bigger names like Parise, Suter, Nash, and Doan. The Jets will be forced to pay through the nose for these players if they want them in Jets' double-blue, and I can't see GM Kevin Cheveldayoff doing that. Especially when you hear top-tier agents say things like, "Most guys that have no-movement clauses have a list of cities they won't go. Winnipeg is on almost all of those lists."

I know a number of people who paid a lot of money for three years worth of season tickets for the Jets. I'm not sure they were expecting three years of lottery picks because Winnipeg simply doesn't have a winning tradition. But you would think that a club that is $9 million below the salary cap floor would be willing to overpay a couple of players just to come here and play a few seasons, right?

One can only dream that the Jets will pony up for someone a little more exciting and dynamic than Poni.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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