No NHL team enjoys losing a playoff series. Even after shockingly sweeping the Oilers, getting swept only deepened the wounds for the Winnipeg Jets.
But with setbacks like the Jets suffering that sweep vs. the Canadiens, and Mark Scheifele‘s four-game suspension, there can be some long-term silver linings. Unless, you know, you fail to learn the right lessons.
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Ultimately, we’ll get a better idea how the Jets process this sweep by observing their actual moves in free agency, the 2021 NHL Draft, and the Seattle Kraken expansion process. And, after Scheifele sits out one more game from that suspension, maybe we’ll see him avoid another hit like the one on Jake Evans.
(As Scheifele himself would agree, he’s not exactly racking up hits as if he’s Winnipeg’s answer to Matt Martin.)
But, considering some of the reactions to that Jets sweep, it’s unclear if they truly processed why it happened. Scheifele’s comments about his suspension don’t send the greatest messages, either.
Scheifele critiques Department of Player Safety for suspension
Echoing previous reactions, Scheifele again stated that he believed his four-game suspension was “excessive.” He insisted that he was merely trying to negate a goal, and was backchecking. Scheifele emphasized that he did “regret the outcome” of Jake Evans getting injured, but defended his hit and his “clean record.”
During Wednesday’s post-sweep press conference, Scheifele provided doozy of a quote about it.
” … Obviously, it’s crushing that my season was ended by that, and I wasn’t able to play in this series,” Scheifele said. “I thought I was going to try to be shut down by Phillip Danault, and (instead) it was the Department of Player Safety that shut me down.”
Ultimately, Scheifele’s takeaways aren’t so alarming, as he’s not someone who might blur the line like, say, a Nazem Kadri or Tom Wilson. If there are any additional reactions, maybe it was a fine Scheifele was trying to avoid.
But what about other shockwaves after the Jets come to grips with that sweep by the Canadiens?
Frankly, it might be a little naive to merely pass off the Canadiens sweeping the Jets as the byproduct of Scheifele being suspended.
Beyond the argument that the Canadiens outplayed the Jets in Game 1 (with Scheifele available until the last minute), it’s difficult to look at the lopsided on-ice play and argue that Scheifele would have tipped the scales.
By certain underlying metrics, the Canadiens dominated the Jets in historic ways during this sweep.
Montréal had a 66.7% xGF% at 5v5 in this series per EvolvingHockey.
That makes this the most lopsided series by that stat since it has been recorded (2007-08). #GoHabsGo
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) June 8, 2021
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In other words, when the Jets pulled off their sweep of the Oilers, you could strain an argument that it was a “close sweep.” That really wasn’t the case when the Canadiens swept the Jets.
To reiterate, we won’t really know how Jets management views this sweep until we see what moves they make during the offseason. But the players’ reactions are … interesting.
Scheifele, for instance, slammed the media for doubting the Jets late this season. Meanwhile, Adam Lowry‘s viewpoint was, uh, typical? Empty-caloried?
"In the playoffs it gets magnified and it's definitely something we can improve on."
Adam Lowry after praising Montreal for their commitment to team defence and being "hard to play against."
— Murat Ates (@WPGMurat) June 9, 2021
The real questions Jets should be asking after sweep
Look, Scheifele and his teammates can use criticisms as fuel. Print out those critiques and get that extra motivation for future workouts.
Management, however, should be soul-searching. Frankly, the Jets squandered some great seasons from Connor Hellebuyck, and you really never know how many elite seasons you’ll get from even great goalies.
You can see an element of Corey Crawford's career in Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg was once Actually Good, now they're not, but the starting goalie is the main thing keeping them close to where they used to be. And most people just assume Winnipeg is still Actually Good & not propped up. https://t.co/VAjIS8ZL5N
— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) June 9, 2021
Uncomfortably, the Jets’ underlying numbers have been troubling since at least the second half of the 2018-19 season. Generally speaking, they’ve leaned heavily on a mix of Hellebuyck and shooting luck (thanks to some talented forwards) to win games. That formula’s worked well enough to get into the playoffs, but Montreal’s dominant play inspires doubt about Winnipeg’s ceiling.
So, again, they should be asking tough questions.
Should they replace Paul Maurice?
For multiple seasons, the Jets have been mediocre, if not outright bad, from an analytics standpoint.
Is that all Maurice’s fault? That’s unlikely, but it’s fair to wonder if the Jets might benefit from fresh ideas (Maurice has been behind the bench since they relocated to Winnipeg in 2013-14.)
The “fancy stats” are not the only troubling element with Maurice. In a February study of Winnipeg’s systems, Jack Han wrote about disjointed tactics leading to discontent. Let’s fire off some larger questions:
- Did the Jets fail to adjust their tactics in that sweep vs. the Canadiens?
- Is Maurice getting the most out of players? Were there unexplored avenues to integrate Pierre-Luc Dubois more seamlessly?
- Should Maurice absorb some blame for a stagnant Jets power play?
5v5 play gets all the heat for obv. reasons but I really thought the Jets power-play would generate more. https://t.co/gB4y4W8jC1
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 8, 2021
Can management improve things?
A natural defense of Maurice with the Jets — and really, throughout his surprisingly voluminous coaching career — is that he’s coaching a small market team. There’s not a whole lot Winnipeg can do about that.
But another defense is that the Jets’ defense never really recovered from losing Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tyler Myers.
Now, you can argue that maybe a different coach would find different (maybe better?) solutions to the Jets’ personnel issues on defense. Let’s assume Maurice is optimizing things perfectly for a second, though.
Can GM Kevin Cheveldayoff give Maurice the tools needed for better future results? As Ryan Lambert discusses at EP Rinkside, it doesn’t look easy.
Yet, if it’s a lost cause, it really makes you wonder if the Jets are getting the most out of management and/or their coaching staff.
Can big names deliver more?
So, we touched on coaching and the front office. Time to finish with the third part of the blame game triumvirate: the players.
Scheifele spoke about players already part of the organization (either the Jets, or the Moose at the AHL level) getting better. Consider some circumstances, then.
- Scheifele is still at or near his prime at age 28. Even if he doesn’t improve that backchecking, it’s unlikely the Jets will lose him at the end of a playoff series three years in a row.
- Here’s something that might sneak up on you. Blake Wheeler is already 34. After a season of questions about his two-way play, Wheeler played well vs. the Oilers, but then went pointless during the Canadiens’ sweep of the Jets.
- Again, Pierre-Luc Dubois did not impress, but he’s just 22. Dubois, Nikolaj Ehlers (25), and Kyle Connor (24) form the youngest part of the Jets’ core.
- Hellebuyck is an absolute steal at a $6.167M AAV, and is in the meat of his prime at 28. Still, asking him to deliver at his current level, year after year, might be dangerous. Goalies simply aren’t easy to predict.
- Can Josh Morrissey find his game after seemingly losing it since Jacob Trouba left town? There’s hope at 26, but fear considering his recent work. Especially since it’s not just a one-year slump.
Whatever the answers might be, ask tough questions
So, what should the Jets do?
Again, that hinges on perspective. Can the Jets count on a rebound from top players, or is there something systemic keeping them from shining as much as they should? Is Kevin Cheveldayoff capable of improving things if issues don’t fall on Paul Maurice?
Ultimately, Jets ownership can determine how to respond to what should be a disturbing sweep. That might start with identifying it as a problem — rather than a mere bump in the road — in the first place.
JETS VS. CANADIENS series recaps (MTL completes sweep 4-0)
Game 1: Canadiens 5, Jets 3
Game 2: Canadiens 1, Jets 0
Game 3: Canadiens 5, Jets 1
Game 4: Canadiens 3, Jets 2 (OT)
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.