When this version of the Winnipeg Jets last made the playoffs, they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers and it was two years after another NHL lockout and five years before the next one. Two seasons are now complete since hockey returned The 'Peg. Two playoff-less seasons. The natives are getting restless.
In their final season in the Southeast Division, the Jets finished second, but not high enough in the Eastern Conference (24-21-3, 51 pts.) to be among the top eight. They would end up ninth, four points behind the New York Islanders.
Head coach Claude Noel was given a one-year extension in June, while general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was busy re-signing many of the team's RFAs over the summer. The pressure is on in Winnipeg. Now moving to the Western Conference's Central Division, do the Jets have what it takes to get back to the postseason?
Justin Faulk is still wondering how he couldn't beat Ondrej Pavelec's paddle.
A draft day trade brought Michael Frolik over from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. A few days later, in need of another change of scenery, the Jets acquired Devin Setoguchi from the Minnesota Wild.
After feeling some unhappiness in the organization, Alex Burmistrov bolted for Ak Bars of the KHL. He's still an RFA, so the Jets will "monitor his progress" as they retain his rights. Joining him out the door were Ron Hainsey (Carolina), Antti Miettinen (Switzerland), Mike Santorelli (Vancouver) and Derek Meech (KHL).
Forward: After hovering around the 50-point mark for a couple of seasons, captain Andrew Ladd burst out offensively in 2013 recording 46 points in 48 games. On pace for career numbers in numerous categories, Ladd will again need to be the leader, with help from leading goal scorer Blake Wheeler (19) and Evander Kane, who posted 33 points.
Ladd and Wheeler will be fine on a top line with Bryan Little (32 points), but who will help Kane out on line No. 2 is still to be answered. Olli Jokinen, who says he has another "five, six big seasons left" in him, only provided seven goals and 14 points last season. Michael Frolik (10 points) hasn't been a big point producer since coming into the NHL. The hope is that Setoguchi, a three-time 20-plus goal scorer, can find his groove again and bolster the secondary scoring.
The bottom six provided meager production last season, which is a reason why the Jets finished middle of the pack in scoring with 2.62 goals per game.
Rookie Mark Scheifele will get his shot as he and head coach Claude Noel figure out his place in the lineup. Can he play his way onto the Kane line?
Defense: Despite place in the bottom half of the league in goals allowed (2.94), there's some good news for the Jets defense. It's an Olympic year, so that means Dustin Byfuglien, who was invited to Team USA's orientation camp in August, didn't have those weight stories following him around this summer. He led the Winnipeg defense in scoring with 8 goals and 28 points.
Also, Toby Enstrom enters the season healthy, coming off shoulder and back injuries which limited him to 22 games. And Zach Bogosian, who signed a big deal in the summer, played heavy minutes last season (23:07 TOI) and provides a solid two-way presence.
Like Scheifele up front, Jacob Trouba poses a question for Cheveldayoff and Noel: where will he fit in on the blueline? He's proven his worth to remain at the NHL level, but can the Jets find a place for him where he'll be most productive?
Goalies: It's Ondrej Pavelec's net for now. He was left off ESPN's top 25 goaltenders list, something his head coach agreed with. For as much athleticism as he shows at times, there are too many moments where you say "he should have stopped that." His save percentage has been league average. If he can find consistency in his play, the Jets will be much better off for it.
Kevin Cheveldayoff was given an extension this month and is in for the long-haul. A long-time True North employee, his seat within the executive offices is quite cool. Head coach Claude Noel's on the other hand is heating up. Handed a one-year extension in June, patience is wearing thin for getting the Jets back into the playoffs. Another season of only 82 games could see Cheveldayoff looking in a new direction behind the bench.
"Everyday I'm Byfuglien ... Byfuglien, Byfuglien ..."
Jets fans are supremely entertaining.
A healthy defense. Enstrom and Bogosian missed 41 games combined last season will only help to improve that 2.62 goals per game number.
Evander Kane vs. the Winnipeg media. How many more ridiculous stories will be written this season about the "brash" Kane, allowing the rest of us to wonder when the first trade demand will come?
Aside from goaltending, special teams can't get much worse than last season. Between the power play (30th, 13.8 percent) and penalty kill (24th, 79.7 percent), the Jets had issues last season on special teams that cannot be a factor in another subpar season.
The Jets move out of the East and into the West, landing in the Central Division with the likes of the Blackhawks, Blues, Predators, Stars, Avs and Wild. Life doesn't get any easier for them, but if Pavelec can elevate his game and the secondary scoring comes together, they should be able to play themselves into the playoff mix. There's plenty of pressure on this team this season. Can they meet expectations?
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