Jury's out on Jets

Jets forward Andrew Ladd celebrates a goal against the Stars at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man.,...

Jets forward Andrew Ladd celebrates a goal against the Stars at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., March 14, 2012. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:23 PM ET

WINNIPEG - They’re down to a dozen — a fitting number of games left in the inaugural regular season of the new Winnipeg Jets.

Fitting because the jury is still very much out on this bunch.

Over the next three weeks the 12 votes will trickle in, and we’ll have a verdict.

The Jets, along with their rookie head coach/GM combination, will either be guilty or cleared.

The charge? Call it identity theft.

Or maybe impersonating a playoff team.

Claiming they’re not the same outfit that crashed and burned in Atlanta at the end of last season, the Jets have so far failed to prove it.

Oh, they’re a modest four points better after the 70-game mark, but the number of losses (29) remains the same, the only difference being four overtime/shootout results that have swung in their favour.

All that’s got them is yet another seat on the wrong side of the playoff glass.

The same seat they were in a year ago.

“It was similar,” Blake Wheeler recalled, Thursday. “We were still right in it at this time last year. We’ve been down this road. When I was traded from Boston to Atlanta we were in ninth place at the time, a couple points out of a playoff spot.”

And here they are, just over 12 months later, new city, new name, some new faces — but four points out, in 10th place.

I can think of a few things making better progress. World peace, for one. The new stadium, maybe.

This was supposed to be a talented team on the rise, bursting with potential.

Well, it’s time has arrived.

Starting with Friday night’s must-win against the Capitals of Washington, the Jets have to be pointed True North, from now on.

Because if this team, with all its home-ice magic, can’t take a single step forward in the big picture, what have Claude Noel and Kevin Cheveldayoff accomplished?

Like teenagers who’ve got their hands on daddy’s keys for the first time, they will have been spinning their wheels for naught. Attracted some attention, but got nowhere.

I’ve enjoyed watching the return of the big leagues as much as anyone, but the purpose is winning. At least, getting the most out of what you’ve got.

If the Jets aren’t playing past April 7, Noel will have spent a season pushing buttons but not getting any more results than Craig Ramsay did a year ago.

And Cheveldayoff will have a spent a season doing... um... what, exactly? Oh, yeah — evaluating.

His free agent signings last summer were supposed to improve the team, remember?

Now’s the time to see it. When the games matter most.

A year ago, the not-yet-Jets crashed and burned, going 5-7 in their last dozen, the defining moment still etched in Wheeler’s mind.

“I don’t know what the date or when the game was, but we went to Buffalo, kind of a make-or break game, a four-point game,” Wheeler recalled. “And they beat us, like, 8-1. So that was kind of the end of it.”

It was actually 8-2. March 19, in Buffalo. Game 72. Loss No. 30.

Friday, it’s Game 71. Another make-or-break four-pointer. Win No. 34, or loss No. 30.

The first of 12 games that’ll determine whether Year 1 lived up to all the hype.

Because when the gavel comes down on the season, when the pompoms stop waving, the smoke clears and the noise stops at Portage and Hargrave, the real story of 2011-12 will be exposed.

Did the Jets really take off, or was it all just an attention-grabbing revving of engines for those who like things loud and shiny?

This isn’t a monster truck jam.

It’s pro hockey, where you win or you lose.

Success or failure.

Guilty, or not.

Let the deliberations begin.


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