In the NHL, consistency is king.
That much was true when Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk was dominating the ice back in the 80s, and it remains just as vital now.
It’s a salient point that he stresses to his players as coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, and it’s an area of utmost importance for his former team, the Winnipeg Jets, as well.
While the Jets have a collection of promising young players, including Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Evander Kane (the latter of which has been dogged by trade rumors for many months), they have not been able to take the next step since moving to Manitoba.
The Jets have missed the playoffs for three straight years, but that could change this year if those young stars start producing night in and night out.
"They’re young and they’re good, but the one thing you look at with the guys that sign those big-money deals for long terms, what they have in their backgrounds is consistency. That’s what [the Jets] need to do," Hawerchuk told ESPN.com in a recent telephone conversation. "That should translate into the team being consistent every night. Right now, the consistency is what they’d like to achieve. I always tell players, you have to have the whole package to get to the NHL, but you have to have consistency to be a real pro."
Having spent nine seasons in Winnipeg -- beginning when he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for the league’s top rookie in 1982 -- Hawerchuk knows that the brutally-cold locale is not for everyone. It does not have palm trees or a flashy nightlife to offer free agents, as other NHL cities do. Because of that, the organization’s ability to draft well is paramount, Hawerchuk thinks.
"Those good, young players will get the roots and the closeness to Winnipeg. As they get time in there, these guys will develop and they should start to turn corner, but that takes a bit of time," Hawerchuk said.
"Maybe it’s a harder draw for free agents so you need to build within the draft, but the little bit I know from the little bit of time I’ve spent [around the team], they do everything first-class."
One area of optimism is the return of head coach Paul Maurice, who was hired after Claude Noel was fired last season and given a four-year extension (through the 2017-18 season) in April despite missing the postseason.
Hawerchuk thinks that is a sign of positive things to come.
"When he first came in, they were re-energized," Hawerchuk said. "Paul’s got a lot of experience and that should bode well for them moving forward. When you’ve been around as long as he has, a lot of things are second nature to him. That can translate to the players pretty good."
One question facing the organization is what sort of season they will get out of starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who has three years remaining on a five-year deal that pays him $3.9 million annually.
The 27-year-old Czech netminder posted a disappointing 22-26-7 record with a 3.01 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
Hawerchuk said it’s hard for him to predict whether Pavelec will remain the starter for the foreseeable future, but he stressed the need for stability in net regardless of who is between the pipes.
"They definitely have to find that, whether it’s [Pavelec] or somebody else," Hawerchuk said. "You have to have goaltending."
Though his primary focus now will be on leading the Barrie Colts back to the OHL playoffs -- they finished fourth in the Eastern Conference last season -- Hawerchuk will likely keep tabs on his former team.
Count him as one person that was thrilled when the NHL returned to the 'Peg.
"I really enjoyed my time there and I always had the feeling they’d be back. It’s just too big of a hockey market," Hawerchuk said. "Playing in the NHL for 16 years and seeing other markets and the way they were, it just didn’t seem right that this market wouldn’t have another team."