They say bad things come in threes but when it comes to injuries and the Winnipeg Jets, the arithmetic curve seems to be trending much higher. With their top four blueliners still out with injuries and Evander Kane now joining them on the sidelines, the Jets will be in tough to maintain their current playoff position. In spite of these challenges, Winnipeg has still managed to thold their own and currently sit in a three-way tie for sixth in the Western Conference.
Edmonton - January 2, 2015 - They say bad things come in threes but when it comes to injuries and the Winnipeg Jets, the arithmetic curve seems to be trending much higher.
Over the past month, the Jets’ backend has been decimated like no other, as their top four defenceman have all found their way into the infirmary.
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff did move quickly to shore up the situation, snatching a serviceable blueliner in Jay Harrison from the Carolina Hurricanes for a sixth round pick to help ease the pain.
In spite of these challenges, Winnipeg has still managed to tread water, posting a 6-2-2 mark over their last ten games and currently sit in a three way tie for sixth in the Western Conference.
But now the Jets have been given another swift kick to the mid-section. . .
In hockey’s version of fratricide, Evander Kane took a point shot off his leg from a teammate during last Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Wild and came away with a lower body injury and is expected to be sidelined until early February.
The question now becomes whether or not Winnipeg can continue to win games at the same pace in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. My quick answer would be yes and it is based on a couple of factors.
Much of the Jets’ early success has been contingent on an all in commitment to a defence first philosophy. Kane is proving to be a very interesting player. He has never previously given the impression of being a team-first player, but he has bought into the system, which might indicate his mind-set has changed.
As some evidence he has a plus three rating to go with 15 points in 26 games. Having already missed several games due to injury, his point totals are far from gaudy, but his commitment to a team game is worth noting. Head coach Paul Maurice has chosen to promote 6’3” 230lb Chris Thorburn to fill the spot of the former fourth overall pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Thorburn is reported to have the requisite speed the team needs to fill Kane’s spot, but as for scoring, well, not so much. At thirty-one years of age, the former second round pick has never scored more than nine goals in a season and it would not be realistic to expect him to suddenly develop a scoring touch at this stage of his career. If he can chip in the odd goal and make space for his teammates with his size, and contribute the odd point, that’s all the team can hope for.
While Thorburn is by no means a sniper, Kane has scored just six times, so it is not as though he has a huge scoring gap to fill. The other consideration is special teams, which is where the young power forward has scored half of his goals. Maurice has indicated this will be an opportunity for Adam Lowry to step up and provide effective net presence on the power play, which he should be more than capable of accomplishing.
In order for the Jets to withstand an additional bluster to the current storm of injuries, the head coach will have to keep his team focused on system play and hope to get some much needed reinforcement along the blueline. Maurice has shown himself as one of the most capable coaches in the NHL, so the former should not be much of a problem.
As for reinforcements, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom are slated to return to the team by mid-January and provided they can hit the ground running, Winnipeg should be able to survive a rash of injuries that would have likely led to the down fall of even the best teams in the conference. If they can pull that off, which I believe they can, it would be true character builder for the entire group.
Shifting to the bigger picture, Kevin Cheveldayoff will certainly have a far clearer picture as to whether or not Evander Kane is an irreplaceable place. Will it take another humorless Instagram photo or a vague quote to convince the GM to make a decision on this player? Perhaps but if the player were to return from injury and continue to show a commitment to the team system, everything changes.
It may make for an interesting trade deadline and one that should see the Winnipeg Jets in the thick of the playoff hunt out west.