Jets finding wings

TED WYMAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:17 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It’s about these Winnipeg Jets fans who are showing all the patience of a five-year old with ADHD as the city’s fledgling NHL franchise tries to get off the ground.

Did people really expect the Jets to jump head first into the free agent pool and try to come away with a top-6 forward on a ridiculously long and expensive contract?

It seems that way judging from some of the reactions I’ve heard since free agency opened and the Jets only dipped their toes in the water.

Anyone who actually expected a spending binge on July 1 clearly hasn’t been paying attention.

Since the day it was announced the Atlanta Thrashers were moving to Winnipeg — reiterated when Kevin Cheveldayoff was hired as GM — the Jets management has laid out a plan to build through the draft, keep the assets they have, develop their young talent and add parts as necessary.

This is an endurance run, not a sprint.

The No. 1 priority was always to re-sign captain and leading scorer Andrew Ladd to a long-term deal. That mission, in which the Jets showed the hockey world they mean business by locking up a young leader with two Stanley Cup championships to his name, has been accomplished. Now it’s on to priority No. 2 — inking defenceman Zach Bogosian and forward Blake Wheeler to similar deals.

At the same time, the team may continue to add players who can compete for spots on the roster in September. As Cheveldayoff said Tuesday, there’s lots of time until the puck drops.

It’s conceivable that the Jets will try to sign a veteran forward or two who can put the puck in the net. Ladd himself suggested it’s what the team needs and they’d be wise to take that advice. Someone like Teemu Selanne, if he changes his mind about either playing in Anaheim or retiring, would be perfect, but only if it’s on a one-year deal that won’t mess too much with the overall philosophy.

Now I can understand why some fans are concerned about the Jets’ talent up front. They are not flush with top-line players, though Bryan Little, Ladd, Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov all have top-line potential.

The fear is that this was the seventh worst team in the NHL last year and it hasn’t improved immensely.

Meanwhile, division rivals Florida, Carolina and Washington all made big additions and the Tampa Bay Lightning were already pretty good and rising.

Other Eastern Conference teams like the Rangers — who made the biggest splash by signing Brad Richards to a 10-year deal — the Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres all made themselves better.

The conference also has the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins and plenty of other playoff contenders.

It will be a major challenge for the Jets to make the playoffs in Year One, but it’s definitely doable. An Eastern Conference scout we talked to pegged them in the top half of the league in terms of talent.

Both outgoing GM Rick Dudley and outgoing coach Craig Ramsay said the team is young and on the rise and they lamented not getting the chance to see it through.

Sure, it would be nice if the Jets deep-pocketed owners were to throw some money around and go for the instant fix.

But it wouldn’t necessarily be the right thing to do.

This puppy needs to find its legs before it can start running with the big dogs.

NHL Southeast Division free agent moves

Caroline Hurricanes

IN — G Brian Boucher (Flyers); LW Alexei Ponikarovsky (Kings); C Tim Brent (Maple Leafs); LW Jiri Tlusty (re-signed); RW Anthony Stewart (Jets); D Tomas Kaberle (Bruins)

OUT — RW Erik Cole (Canadiens)

Florida Panthers

IN — RW Tomas Fleischmann (Avalanche); RW Scottie Upshall (Blue Jackets); RW Sean Bergenheim (Lightning); D Ed Jovanovski (Coyotes); G Jose Theodore (Wild); C Marcel Goc (Predators); C Matt Bradley (Capitals)

OUT — LW Darcy Hordichuk (Oilers); C Marty Reasoner (Islanders); G Tomas Vokoun (Capitals); RW Niclas Bergfors (Predators)

Tampa Bay Lightning

IN — G Mathieu Garon (Blue Jackets); D Matt Gilroy (Rangers); C Tom Pyatt (Canadiens)

OUT — G Mike Smith (Coyotes); LW Sean Bergenheim (Panthers); LW Simon Gagne (Kings); D Randy Jones (Jets)

Washington Capitals

IN — C Jeff Halpern (Canadiens); D Roman Hamrlik (Canadiens); RW Joel Ward (Predators); C Ryan Potulny (Senators); G Tomas Vokoun (Panthers); RW Troy Brouwer (trade from Blackhawks, re-signed)

OUT — G Semyon Varlamov (traded to Avalanche); LW Marco Sturm (Canucks); C Boyd Gordon (Coyotes); C Matt Bradley (Panthers)

Winnipeg Jets

IN — D Derek Meech (Red Wings); LW Tanner Glass (Canucks); D Randy Jones, (Lightning); C Rick Rypien, (Canucks); LW Andrew Ladd (re-signed); C Aaron Gagnon (Stars); D Mark Flood (Canucks)

OUT — RW Radek Dvorak (Stars); RW Anthony Stewart (Hurricanes)


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