The Hurricanes' final visit to Manitoba as a divisional rival takes place tonight. In a bit of a rarity, the Jets won both games in Raleigh this year, and with a win tonight the Canes would sweep both games in Winnipeg. Derek Gagnon of Arctic Ice Hockey is up today in the hot seat as we ask Three Questions about the still playoff-hopeful Jets.
- Does the hullabaloo surrounding Evander Kane earlier this season seem to have blown over by now, or is it still lurking around in the background?
I think there's always the chance that it rears its ugly head again, but for the most part I'd say it's in the past. Evander is a very special player, and continues to be looked upon as an up and coming star in this league. The willingness for both he and the Jets to sign a long term deal should indicate that there are no problems between the two sides. Kane is currently 2nd in the league in shots on goal, and though he isn't scoring on the 30 goal pace he put up last season, he is still one of the best second line wingers in this league, and at 21 is still only getting better.
- If the Jets miss the playoffs by a point or two, will there be consternation that they couldn't hold the division lead to get in, or given that few were expecting them to be there at all at the beginning of the season, is it an acceptable, if disappointing, outcome?
People in our neck of the woods were rather perplexed when so many media outlets ranked the Jets at or near the bottom of the conference in the preseason. While this truly is not a playoff team, those rankings were quite low. The team has done well with the pieces it has, and the focus continues to be on building for the long term future, rather than sacrificing that future for short term gains, and even then only if the deal is right. The Jets did not make any moves at the trade deadline, apart from a waiver claim, as they were seemingly content to maintain status quo, and status quo for this team is about where they are right now: 9th in the conference. There's too many missing pieces to make this team a playoff contender, but there's too many skilled pieces to make it a basement dweller, so they float somewhere in the middle.
Rest assured, everybody in Winnipeg would have loved the idea of the Jets hoisting a Southeast Division banner into the rafters of the MTS Centre, not because it's a tough division, but because it's just so damn weird to think that our team is in a division with teams from Tampa, D.C., Sunrise and Raleigh.
- With the St. John's IceCaps mired in the lower reaches of the AHL standings, is there any hope for a player or two to come up and make an impact next season in Winnipeg? How much work will Kevin Cheveldayoff need to do in the offseason to get the Jets ready for their new divisional home?
I wouldn't necessarily say "make an impact", but there are a few players that stand a good chance of making the team that aren't currently on it. Eric O'Dell has had a very strong season for the IceCaps, and being just 22 he's bound to get his chance sooner or later. Edward Pasquale put up some decent numbers in goal the past couple of seasons, and should get a chance at the backup role in Winnipeg next year. My brother from another mother Aaron Gagnon is a favorite of coach Claude Noel, and will also likely contend for a roster spot next year. Finally, from the AHL we have Zach Redmond, who is returning to game action this weekend in St. John's after suffering a devastating injury that almost killed him during a morning skate in Raleigh in February. If he can return to the form he was at prior to the injury, he stands to contend for one of the six defender spots next season.
While not on the farm, the Jets also have a couple of aces in Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba that could actually make an impact, as both players have huge upside and generated big points in the OHL and NCAA respectively. Prospect Adam Lowry also had a big year in junior, which resulted in him signing an entry level deal this week and he too could turn into something special. We'll just have to wait and see.
Cheveldayoff will get another chance to find a top 6 center, as the Olli Jokinen experiment has not yielded the expected results. Mark Scheifele is obviously the guy the Jets want to fill that void, and may very well get to do so with a full training camp next fall. The Jets are likely in the market for another defender, as well as a top 6 right winger as there really aren't a lot of holes in the lineup when everybody is healthy. That said, there are 9 RFAs and 9 UFAs to deal with this summer, so there could be a decent amount of turnover for the 2013-2014 season.