Are the Canucks following in the footsteps of the Winnipeg Jets?

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27: Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (26) and Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser (6) skate during warm ups before the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on January 27, 2018 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 27: Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (26) and Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser (6) skate during warm ups before the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on January 27, 2018 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The modern Winnipeg Jets are being used a model that preaches patience before success. For some Canucks fans, they hope to follow a similar path, but I will show you why that is not very likely when exploring the finer details.

The NHL is a copycat league. It works both ways. Teams try to replicate what the recent Stanley Cup Champions did to get to the top. For the teams at the bottom, they can consider that, but also use other successful teams as a template for their rebuild.

It also allows teams to try and avoid examples of poor team building such as the Edmonton Oilers or the early stages of the Buffalo Sabres rebuilds. The Winnipeg Jets appear to check several boxes that unite old school and new school thinkers.

Winnipeg is big and physical, but also very fast and highly skilled. Their depth at every position is incredible and drafting has quietly made them a major threat in the Western Conference. When we look at their timeline since moving from Atlanta, the Jets did not try to turn things around overnight. It took time and Vancouver Canucks fans hope the same will be true for their team when that day arrives.

However, I believe they are major differences in how each team operates. I don’t see the Canucks following a similar timeline once we go beneath the surface. That’s not to say the future isn’t bright. But, Canucks fans are going to have wait much longer than Jets fans have.

Winnipeg’s path through the draft

To keep things short, I will cover Winnipeg’s seven drafts since the move from Atlanta to this year’s trip to the Western Conference Finals. From the 2011 draft, they got Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry. The year after was Jacob Trouba and Connor Hellebuyuk.

In 2013, they got Josh Morrissey and Andrew Copp, while Nic Petan and Tucker Poolman are trying to secure their spot on the roster. The 2014 draft added Nikolaj Ehlers, a crucial component of the team’s offence.

2015 saw the additions of Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic. Connor made a good pitch for rookie of the year with 31 goals in his first full season. That draft also had Sami Niku, who scored the second most points among all defencemen in the AHL last season.

A stroke of luck hit the Jets when they got to pick Patrik Laine at second overall, leaping four lottery spots to get there. It was absolutely lucky, but considering how well the Jets have drafted in the five drafts before, it was just icing on the cake. It’s still a little early to evaluate the 2017 draft, but Kristian Vesalainen had a great post-draft season.

Season to season comparisons

So, the first thing people do when they compare the Jets to the Canucks is looking at their records. During the last seven seasons, the Jets have made the playoffs twice. Before this year’s run, they made the 2015 playoffs, just like the Canucks. However, the Jets were quickly swept by Anaheim in the first round.

Vancouver may have hung in there for two games, but it’s safe to say that Winnipeg faced the much tougher task considering how quickly the Ducks dispatched the Flames in the second round. So, if we are comparing timelines, the Jets made the playoffs three years later, finishing second in the league as well as second in the West.

What did Vancouver do three years after their first round exit? Well, they finished 26th overall. Considering the prior two bottom-three finishes, that’s slightly better, even though I would not call that progress.

But, let’s look at this differently. Some of you may argue with me that the Jets made the playoffs twice in seven years, so if the Canucks are on the right track, they should make the 2021 playoffs (at least we hope so). So, does that mean the Canucks are in the Conference Finals too? Probably not. But the team could get lucky over the next two drafts. Then again, being a Canucks fans should have taught you that luck is not a luxury we can afford.

Roster vs Roster

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Another issue I have with this direct comparison to Winnipeg is what each team started with. The Jets had Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little and Evander Kane. The team had players in their early to mid 20’s to act as veterans today or in the case of Kane, be traded for players that would help like Tyler Myers. That same trade helped the Jets draft Roslovic as well.

If we look at Vancouver in 2014, Jim Benning had a stale core that needed to be reset. Instead, the team went for it, recklessly spending in free agency to chase the playoffs–and it worked. But that was the only time that worked for the next four years.

Vancouver’s core was much older and a certain player saw the writing on the wall, subsequently asking for a way out. Kevin Cheveldayoff was patient. He would not overspend during free agency and he signed many of his best players to team-friendly deals. Whereas Jim Benning chased players to fill an age gap when he could have patiently waited for the players he drafted to turn pro. Having more picks would facilitate that, but here we are.

Picks, picks, picks

Speaking of picks, Winnipeg had 52 selections in the seven drafts since 2011, averaging 7.4 picks per draft. Not bad considering the Canucks have averaged 6.8 picks per draft over the last five years. The Jets had a better support structure than the Canucks and still picked more often.

Vancouver has picked six times in the first round under Jim Benning and four of those picks were in the top 10. I’m counting Quinn Hughes just so the Canucks have five drafts to work from. Over a similar period of time starting in 2011, Winnipeg also had six first round picks, with three in the top 10. They also had multiple years with multiple first round selections while Vancouver only has the one.

Lastly, let’s look at how many drafted players are on the roster. For Winnipeg, we go back to my list of their drafted players. The Jets have 10 regular roster players from those first seven drafts. If you want to look at the first five drafts to make it fair to Vancouver, Winnipeg has nine roster players from the same number of drafts. Vancouver has two. Granted, the Canucks will add 1-3 more players next season, but even if they do, they are still trailing Winnipeg.

I hope this illustrates why these two teams are not a good comparison. Their approaches to rebuilding diverge greatly. It’s one thing to have lottery luck, but the Jets picked often and made good on more of their picks. Now, the Canucks could have just as many contributors from the draft by 2021, but will they be as good? That’s the problem I fear the most. The team still needs help on defence and down the middle.

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Many of the Winnipeg picks failed. That’s just how the draft works when you treat them like lottery tickets. But these lottery tickets were how they extracted value. With so few picks, the Canucks are banking on a vast majority of their picks to not just make the NHL, but become impact players. It’s extremely high risk, high reward. On the other hand, the Jets played it safe and are reaping the benefits for it. Don’t just say wait and see. That’s incredibly lazy. Patience is warranted when a concrete plan is in place; not a desperate scheme that changes direction each month.