Beyak: Jets finish first season with much to build upon

Dennis Beyak,

4/9/2012 12:50:28 AM

Less than twenty-four hours after the Winnipeg Jets' final game of the season, players met the media for one final time. All agreed their first year in Winnipeg was one they will never forget and were disappointed they did not meet their goal of making the playoffs. To their credit they did not offer excuses, even though they could have.

So, we will touch on some areas that played a part in their season win-loss record.

Winnipeg is not geographically positioned to play in the Southeast division with Tampa, Carolina, Washington and Florida. It's not the length of the trips, but the practice days that were missed because of the travel.

Practice days that with another new coach would have been very valuable. At the start of camp when becoming a "team" was critical, the team was playing split-squad games. While half the team was at home playing Columbus in their first preseason game, the other half was in Columbus. Then as part of the group went to Nashville and St. John's, another group was in Charlotte playing Carolina. And on it went.

For the most part the Jets played Atlanta's schedule, with a few alterations.

Twelve of the first seventeen games were on the road. They got off to a bad start with a poor road record from which they would never recover.

Even though it appears they will again play in the Southeast in 2012-13 (the NHLPA rejected a new alignment that would have made for an easier schedule) the Jets will have more say in next year's schedule.

With strong play at home through December the Jets got themselves back in the race. But three wins in twelve games to start 2012 again got them in trouble. They battled until game 79 when they were officially eliminated from the the playoff race.

Coach Claude Noel Sunday said "things have to change. The attitude needs to be better. We have to expect to be in the playoffs next year. I will push harder and expect more. I saw growth and that needs to continue. I saw more inner accountability."

This was Noel's first full season behind an NHL bench.

"I learned a lot," he said. "I was patient, more patient than I thought I would be. I will be less patient next year. I just felt they needed some room, wanted them to accept some responsibility and they did. There are area's I need to push more."

Noel mentioned Blake Wheeler and Kyle Wellwood as pleasant surprises, and commended Captain Andrew Ladd for his leadership.

"He's what we need to be," he said. "We will lean on him but he needs help."

Noel added that as for personnel changes going forward he will give his opinion but final decisions are not his.

"I think we have a good thing going here. It's a great place to play, players will want to come here."

Some changes are expected with Tanner Glass, Jim Slater, Chris Mason and Kyle Wellwood are among the list of UFA's. While Evander Kane and Ondrej Pavelec are two RFA's that need to be resigned.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will be a special guest on TSN 1290, the Winnipeg radio home of the Jets, for a two hour special from 6 pm to 8 pm ct Monday and Rick Ralph will moderate a two hour "year in review" special Tuesday from 6 pm to 8 pm on TSN 1290.

A number of players will be off to the World Championships including Ladd and Kane, who will be joining Team Canada.