With only a few days remaining before the start of the NHL’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the
final team in the series, the Winnipeg Jets. After years of petitions, protests, and pleas, Winnipeg was over-joyed to find that the city would be home to an NHL team once again. That was three years ago. Since the team’s arrival, the organization has failed to make the playoffs, or even come close. It should come as no surprise, considering the team the Winnipeg Jets inherited was the awful Atlanta Thrashers, who only made the playoffs once in their franchise history.
However, the honeymoon phase is over for Winnipeg. The home fans want a playoff appearance, and they feel they have waited long enough. With the “shiny new toy” syndrome quickly wearing off for the organization, the Winnipeg Jets need to make the playoffs soon to return the luster back to the team.
Last Season – Winnipeg began the season as it had many others. A 1–4–3 record in the preseason led to a poor October and an average November and December. After starting January with five straight losses, the organization had had enough. The Jets fired head coach Claude Noel on January 12, hiring Paul Maurice in his stead. The coaching change seemed to energize the team, as they won four straight after the change, and held an 8-2-0 record in the first 10 games under Maurice.
However, the poor start to the season was simply too much for the Winnipeg Jets to overcome. Though the team seemed revitalized, the Sochi Olympic break ended any momentum gained by Maurice’s hiring, as a 4-7-4 in March effectively ended any shot the Jets had of making the playoffs.
The standout star for Winnipeg last year was defenseman Jason Trouba, whose play on both sides of the ice were outstanding for a player that was playing college hockey the year before. He did miss a month of the season after colliding hard into the boards in a game against the St. Louis Blues. However, he rookie remained upbeat, tweeting “If you were wondering, the boards are not edible. I’ll be back soon” shortly after the game.
The Offseason – Despite missing the playoffs for the third straight year, the Winnipeg Jets had a very quiet offseason. On the one hand, Winnipeg’s general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, should be commended for sticking with a very clear plan. Knowing that Atlanta had a very depleted prospect pool, “Chevy” has spent the past three years rebuilding that depth through drafts and the waiver wire. Nikolaj Ehlers, the Jets’ most recent 1st round draft pick, was recently signed to a three-year entry level contract, showing just how much he has impressed the organization in a short time.
On the other hand, it does not take much to create a “losing culture” within an organization, and the Winnipeg Jets appear to be heading in that direction, similar to the Atlanta Thrashers before them. While they do have star players on the team, some of those players appear to be as frustrated with the lack of playoffs as the fans are. Evander Kane, one of the Jets’ best young wingers, has been subject to trade rumors for over a year. There has been enough smoke surrounding his unhappiness within the organization that a kernel of truth must be there. How many years of non-playoff action it takes for other Winnipeg Jets players to follow suit must be concerning for the organization.
The offseason also set a milestone for the organization, as Cheveldayoff made his first player-for-player trade in the current franchise history, trading Eric Tangradi for Peter Budaj and Patrick Holland. Without questioning how a general manager can survive three years without trading one player for another, he does deserve credit for making his first one as one that can help the team. Budaj should be an upgrade in the backup goaltender position, which could see more starts than expected, as starter Ondrej Pavelec has been inconsistent in his play.
What to Watch for This Season – The management of the Winnipeg Jets have to be feeling a bit of pressure from the fans and the media after three straight years of missing the playoffs. While everyone is still happy that the city is host to an NHL team once again, a successful season is needed to maintain that happiness. Unfortunately for the Jets and their fans, this season will likely not be the successful season they are looking for. The West is simply too stacked, and Winnipeg has the misfortune of playing in the toughest division in the league.
With that in mind, the focus should be on the growing number of talented young players on the Jets roster. Despite being in the league for six years, defenseman Zach Bogosian is still only 24-years-old, not yet hitting the age where defensemen truly develop. With Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, and Trouba all under 30, Winnipeg’s Top 4 looks set for a while. Forward Mark Scheifele had his first full NHL season cut short due to a knee injury in March, but he impressed in the 63 games he did play in. Ehlers, defenseman Josh Morrissey, and center Nicolas Petan will likely return to their junior teams this year, but their development this year will determine how successful the Jets are in the future.
It is the future that the Winnipeg Jets must be focused on, despite the luster of the relocation beginning to wear off. Now, rather than focusing on the fact that they are hosting an NHL team, Winnipeg and its fans must focus on how to host a successful NHL team. It will likely not happen this year, but with enough intriguing young pieces to go around, it might not be too long until the playoffs return to the MTS Centre.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner