With only three games left to go — and another year without playoff hockey — the fortunes of the Winnipeg Jets during this 2016/17 NHL season have left me in a personal quandary. Here’s why.
As a lifelong Winnipeg Jets fan, I just don’t know how I feel about the team anymore. I suppose it sums up the season perfectly to suggest I feel both frustrated and encouraged.
How is that even possible?
And yet, it’s true. Most of my thoughts on individual players remain the same since my last Winnipeg Jets random thoughts post at the end of 2016.
Actually, a litany of items. I was relieved to see Alexander Burmistrov move on, as that at least removed one source of frustration, but several more remain:
The team’s veterans take far too many unnecessary penalties. For me, the worst culprits include Stuart, Byfuglien, Enstrom, Wheeler, and Perreault.
The team’s defensive zone play is really poor. They lose track of coverage far too often and have a really tough time clearing the puck from the zone consistently.
Their penalty killing is far too passive and ineffective. It feels like penalty killing has been a problem since the franchise returned and it’s difficult to understand how the team can be so consistently bad at it.
Goaltending remains terribly inconsistent. It’s especially poor when the team is a man short. They can’t seem to get a big save very often when on the penalty kill and their combined save percentage when shorthanded is abysmal.
Is there an NHL team that gives up more stretch pass breakaways than the Winnipeg Jets? Even when they seem to have things locked down, there far too often is at least one inevitable breakdown that creates a glorious opportunity for the other team to score. It’s maddening and opposing teams have clearly been targeting this vulnerability.
For all the frustrations, there are also signs of progress that give me hope.
The infiltration of the youngsters onto the roster is very encouraging. For the purposes of this post, I’ll define youngster as 24 and under, which allows us to include anyone the team has drafted since relocating from Atlanta. Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine have all become fixtures on the roster. Connor Hellebuyck, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Marko Dano and perhaps Tucker Poolman are all knocking on the door. The young talent is so impressive that a guy like Nic Petan may not even have the ability to crack the roster going forward.
The Jets are a top 10 scoring team this season and generally are able to create offense. While they are still more top-heavy than I’d like to see in terms of their production, they do have five 20+ goal scorers and nine players who have scored goals into double digits — with Andrew Copp needing just one more to make it an even ten.
Assuming they don’t lose anyone in the expansion draft, and assuming everyone returns next season at full health, on paper the Jets have a pretty solid looking top six defensive corps. Trouba, Morrissey, Byfuglien, Myers, Enstrom and Poolman is as individually talented a group as you’re likely to find in the NHL. If only they can all just stay healthy and play the majority of the season together. Time will reveal whether that’s just a pipe dream.
Without the playoffs to look forward to, I’m left with anticipation of the off-season as the only thing to look forward to.
Can the Jets possibly move up in the draft lottery yet again? They look to sit somewhere around the ten-hole in the expansion draft, so the odds are against them moving up. It would be cool if they did though. Regardless, based on their recent draft history, another top-10 pick figures to further stock the talent pool of up and coming young players who may become roster fixtures down the road.
Who will the Jets ultimately expose to the expansion draft and which player will they end up losing?
Can the Jets land a legitimate number 1 goaltender to ride while Connor Hellebuyck and Eric Comrie continue to develop? Can Kevin Cheveldayoff parlay some of his stockpiled youth into a key piece to bolster the penalty kill? Are there any unexpected moves that will swerve the fan base and stimulate new excitement?
I hope the off-season brings some excitement and I can’t wait for the start of next Winnipeg Jets season because that’s when peak optimism rules. 🙂