Winnipeg's attendance problem, Tampa Bay's rough start, and oh hey Sean Couturier is back
Happy Wednesday, let's talk about the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Hello and happy Wednesday. Here is what is ahead today.
The Winnipeg Jets have an attendance problem and it is one of their own creation.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have not looked good at all.
Sean Couturier is back
Small crowds should be eye opening for Winnipeg management and ownership
When the Winnipeg Jets made their return at the start of the 2011-12 season their home games were one of the wildest scenes in the NHL. A hockey-mad city getting a team back after a two decade absence prompted a raucous environment that was the envy of almost every other franchise in the league.
It didn’t matter that the team wasn’t really any good. It was a fresh start, a new team and a time to be excited because, hey, THE JETS ARE BACK.
Over the decade that has followed that has pretty much been the only thing Jets management and ownership has relied upon to generate fan interest. Outside of one or two years where everything clicked and they put together a really good team, the on-ice product has been mostly average. Never really excitingly good, never really offensively bad.
They are just a random mid-level team that exists in the league that you never really think about unless you A) cheer for them or B) the team you do cheer for is playing against them.
Eventually, that sustained level of mediocrity will take its toll on the former group and the luster of a new team will eventually wear off.
We have officially reached that point in Winnipeg.
One of the most stunning developments of the first week of the NHL season is that people are not going to Jets games.
They failed to sell out their home opener by more than 2,000 seats, and then on Tuesday drew just a little over 11,000 fans for their 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. A team that featured a former Jet (Pierre-Luc Dubois) making his return after forcing his way out of Winnipeg this offseason. Six of seven years ago that would have been cause for Winnipeg to pack that place to the roof just so they could spend two-and-half hours heckling him and yelling at him (the fans in attendance did do that; there just were not a lot of them).
I want to be very clear about something here — this is not meant to be a callout of Jets fans.
This is a callout of the Jets.
Because the organization is the one at fault here for building and sustaining a team that generates zero excitement and gives people zero reason to keep returning. Hockey tickets are expensive. Hockey tickets in Winnipeg are especially expensive. I can not fault people for not wanting to invest big money into a franchise that never makes you feel like it is doing anything to get closer to a championship.
Not even the re-signing of the two biggest stars on the team (forward Mark Scheifele and goalie Connor Hellebuyck) was enough to really move the needle. And in some ways those moves just added to the perpetual mediocrity and sent a sign to fans that nothing is actually going to change here. That is exactly what I wrote about last week when those signings were announced.
How does this team ever change if it never actually …. you know … changes.
They have had the same general manager their entire existence in Winnipeg (Kevin Cheveldayoff) whose entire process and team-building strategy is to paint by numbers and stay locked within his basic box. The only significant, meaningful trades the Jets have made during his time running the team have been the result of players doing something to force their way out of Winnipeg.
There has not been a single creative or proactive move made in this man’s entire tenure to meaningfully shift the direction or makeup of the team. Acquiring guys like Nate Schmidt and Nino Niederreiter are fine moves, but they are also easily forgettable and bland and do nothing to get people on board. Even the last coaching change was the result of the coach (Paul Maurice) realizing the team was not responding to him and resigning on his own. He basically fired himself because the general manager wasn’t paying enough attention to do it himself when it was clear things were not working.
It’s not like this is a terrible team devoid of talent.
They made the playoffs just last year.
There are enough high-end players on the roster that they will probably stay in the race this season and might even sneak in again as a wild card team that is simply a warm-up act for a real contender in the first round.
But the most likely outcome here is that the Jets do exactly what they have done for the better part of their existence. Hang around the middle of the league’s standings, give their fans no reason to believe they have a realistic chance at a Stanley Cup and not do anything to give any hope that anything will change. It is the stalest, dullest team in the league and has absolutely zero juice or buzz around it.
The worst situation a team can be in is when fans stop caring.
That is when apathy sets in or already has set in. An owner should take anger and vitriol from its fan base over over apathy every single day. Because angry fans still care. Angry fans still have expectations. Apathy means they no longer care.
Mediocrity, more than anything else, is what causes apathy.
Even bad, rebuilding teams still inspire passion. Teams can even capitalize on that process to build buzz. Chicago Blackhawks fans weren’t apathetic during the 2022-23 season when the team absolutely sucked mud because they knew there was a plan in place. They knew that if everything went right there was going to be a potential light at the end of the tunnel that could provide some hope.
Jets fans with the current organization have no such light, and they have not had it for years.
They finally stopped caring.
You can only sell tickets based on “hey, isn’t it cool the Jets are back?” for so long.
Eventually you have to do something to keep people coming back. This current organization, from ownership to the hockey operations department, seems completely incapable of that.
Tampa Bay has not looked good at all
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