Postponements not that big a pain for Jets

Opinion

The circumstances surrounding it are truly unfortunate, a sobering reminder that COVID-19 is a formidable foe, but one of the side effects of a viral outbreak within the Vancouver Canucks organization has gifted the Winnipeg Jets a golden opportunity.

Memo to the players, coach Paul Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff: for a change, time is now on your side. Don’t waste it.

To put it bluntly, the Jets are running on fumes right now. Friday’s game at Bell MTS Place against the Toronto Maple Leafs was their 21st in a 37-day span. A dozen of those were played on the road, spanning the Eastern, Mountain and Pacific time zones. And, to paraphrase former NBA star Allen Iverson, don’t even talk about practice. There’s been almost no time for those.

There was to be no immediate end in sight, either. The Jets were supposed to keep playing at least every other day for the next couple weeks, including two more sets of back-to-backs, before they would finally get more than a single day off in late April.

That’s a dangerous recipe, not just for poor performances, but also for the potential of injuries starting to pile up. Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Maple Leafs was a perfect example — Blake Wheeler left the game after the first period, Pierre-Luc Dubois accidentally took out Derek Forbort with a knee-on-knee hit, Paul Stastny was spitting out teeth, and the Jets had very little giddy-up and go.

Which is why this unexpected break is coming at the perfect time. Rather than host the Canucks for games on Sunday and Tuesday, the Jets will play just once, at home on Monday night against the Ottawa Senators. Then it’s off to Montreal to begin a five-game road trip, as scheduled, next Thursday.

There really is some light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s not an oncoming train.

“I don’t think there’s any drawbacks right now. I think there’s just benefits. We’ve played a lot of hockey the last couple months. A couple days off would be great for the minds and the bodies,” forward Mason Appleton said Friday.

Initially, it looked like Winnipeg might get six days off until their next game, which would have been a case of too much of a good thing — especially knowing that it would eventually come back to bite them. After all, those two postponed games against Vancouver are still going to happen at some point.

“The potential changes to our schedule, it’s kind of like be careful what you wish for,” Maurice cautioned, a few hours before the decisions were finalized. “If you said to me, ‘How would you feel about getting a day or two off that you didn’t expect right now, I’d say I take it.”

In the end, that’s exactly what the Jets will get after the NHL opted to move the May 7 game against Ottawa to Monday, since both teams were looking at empty calendars. That was to be Winnipeg’s second-last game of the regular-season, with the finale on May 8 against the Senators to follow. There’s a good chance the Canucks games will end up being tacked on beyond then.

No decisions have been made, as the league is still trying to get a handle on the full scope of the problem. At least eight players, plus a member of the coaching staff, have been impacted so far. For now, Vancouver is on pause for a full week, but that may have to be extended.

Kicking those Canucks games down the road is a very good thing for a Jets club that currently has a double-digit playoff point cushion. By the time the last couple weeks of the season roll around, there’s a strong chance Winnipeg has its post-season berth formally secured, which would allow them to strategically sit some players out down the stretch,

And those odds just got better with this latest development.

“Our schedule has been pretty hectic. That month of March, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that for us, playing every other day and a couple of back-to-backs, it’s been tough. Playing every other day’s not bad but you get into those back-to-backs and it throws things off,” said Jets forward Kyle Connor.

“You sleep after a game and you get up and have to play another game. That’s probably the toughest thing. It kind of comes at a good time and hopefully we can take advantage and get some practices in and rest up and take care of some lingering injuries.”

Cheveldayoff also has a chance to take advantage of a newly-opened window, one that could benefit his club in a way that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. The NHL trade deadline is Apr. 12. Any acquired player coming to Winnipeg must quarantine for seven days, which the federal government recently adjusted from the original 14.

Under the old rules, and the old schedule, anyone picked up on that day wouldn’t have been eligible to come out of isolation until Apr. 26. Winnipeg hosts Edmonton that night — good luck being immediately game ready after two weeks off skates while cooped up in a hotel — then have just five remaining regular-season games left.

Now, a player acquired on deadline day would be eligible to suit up for the final 11 regular-season games, including the two yet-to-be re-scheduled Vancouver ones. Or, if Cheveldayoff really wanted to think big, how about doing a deal today? The fresh new face would be able to suit up as early as next Saturday in Montreal — and for the 15 games still remaining after that.

Talk about getting more bang for your buck.

They say you have to be good to be lucky, and a talented Jets team that looks to have plenty of tools to make a lengthy playoff run just caught a major break at a most opportune time. As long as they don’t squander it, a little rest could ultimately go a long way in this unique season.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

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