NHL Hockey starts tomorrow. Just let that sink in for a moment. Tomorrow. The nightmare that is the preseason is over and we can look forward to proper, competitive hockey. But first we still need to preview the Winnipeg Jets. Over the last 31 days we’ve previewed every team, yesterday it was the Washington Capitals, now it’s the turn the Jets; the Central Division’s second most irrelevant team.
2016/17 record: 40/35/7
2017/18 prediction: No playoff hockey for the Jets this season.
The Winnipeg Jets have come a long way since relocating from Atlanta in 2011. There has been mistakes along the way but the team are finally starting to look like a unit capable of challenging for the division. Offensively the team are a powerhouse; the top line of Mark Scheifele, Matthieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler combined for 71 goals last season.
2016’s 2nd overall draft pick Patrik Laine led the team in goals with 36 and along with Nikolaj Ehlers will continue to give the second line scoring potential. The Jets added Matt Hendricks during the offseason and the former Edmonton Oilers centre will bring experience to the offence, but probably little in the way of points. He was also hurt during the preseason and will start the regular season on the IR.
With the exception of Dustin Byfuglien, the Jets’ blueline leaves a lot to be desired. Last season the team conceded 255 goals, 4th worst in the league, and the only addition has been Dmitry Kulikov, and he’s failed to impress of late with both the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres. His three year, $12.9 million contract may become one that GM Kevin Cheveldeayoff comes to regret. Especially for the player who’ll likely spend his time on the bottom defensive pairing.
The situation in front of goal is as questionable as it was last season. Connor Hellebuyck and new addition Steve Mason struggled last season, having finished with a .907 and .908 save percentage respectively. Of the 32 goalies who played 40 or more games last season, only 4 performed worse. Both Hellebuyck and Mason are capable of great saves but neither has established themselves as the number one. If anything, the Jets have two number two goalies, and that’s not sustainable.
How far can the Jets go this season? That depends on two things; the quality of the other teams in the Central division, and how well the blueline can hold out. The first factor is outside of the Jets’ control but Paul Maurice does have influence over the second. The defence has to be better than last season, and so far that doesn’t look to be the case. Despite a strong offence, the Jets wont finish high enough to make the playoffs this season.
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