Winnipeg Jets: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

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WINNIPEG, CANADA - FEBRUARY 8: Winnipeg Jets mascot Mick E. Moose celebrates a 5-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche as the Jets head off the ice on February 8, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, CANADA - FEBRUARY 8: Winnipeg Jets mascot Mick E. Moose celebrates a 5-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche as the Jets head off the ice on February 8, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Last Season

43-26-13, 99 points, No. 2 Wild Card in West

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Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?

About the same, although there are some changes from the group that was swept away by the Anaheim Ducks in the opening round.

Jack of all trades Michael Frolik signed a five-year deal with the Calgary Flames. Veteran energy forward Jim Slater was unsigned. Rentals Lee Stempniak (10 points in 18 games) and Jiri Tlusty (8 points in 20 games after coming over from Carolina) were unsigned.

It’s not to say these aren’t impactful losses, because they are, but they’re still role players. Balancing those departures: The return of Alex Burmistrov, back from a two-year sabbatical in the KHL and ready to bring his skill to a third-line role.

WINNIPEG, CANADA - APRIL 22: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets consoles teammate Ondrej Pavelec #31 following a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 22, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The Ducks won the series 4-0. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, CANADA - APRIL 22: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets consoles teammate Ondrej Pavelec #31 following a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 22, 2015 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The Ducks won the series 4-0. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Dustin Byfuglien, D/F

Buff is in the final year of a contract that carries a $5.2 million cap hit. He had 45 points in 69 games last season but was still called a defensive liability despite playing admirably with increased minutes; now, the metrics point to his numbers taking a hit in his contract year. He’s an unparalleled talent in the NHL, but the debates rage over whether the Jets are better without him; and with his pending price tag, rumors of his departure are sure to run rampant.

2. Ondrej Pavelec, G

Hey, he wasn’t atrocious. He wasn’t even the worst starter in the NHL last season. (Thanks, Mike Smith!) Pavelec finished the season with a 2.28 goals against average and .920 save percentage in 50 games. He lost, and then regained, his job from rookie Michael Hutchinson. It will forever be the season in which Pavelec received a Masterton nomination for … um … not quitting hockey despite being terrible? We got nothing.

Hutchinson is back and starter-in-waiting Connor Hellebuyck is waiting to leap over both of them. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if Pavelec can shut critics up for another season. OK, two thirds of a season. OK, maybe a few weeks.

3. Tyler Myers, D

This could easily be Jacob Trouba’s spot on the list, but we’ll go with Myers. He was the centerpiece of the Evander Kane trade. He had 15 points in 24 games with the Jets, meshing immediately with Tobias Enstrom. Was a change in scenery all the 6-8 defenseman needed to relocate his offensive game? And if he continues to thrive, what does that mean for Byfuglien’s ice time?

4. Andrew Ladd, LW

Chances are Ladd, 29, is going to sign a new deal with the Jets before the season and well north of $5 million annually. He’s hit 23 and 24 goals in his last two seasons, and his line with Bryan Little and Drew Stafford is going to be a vital one if the Jets are to return to the postseason.

5. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW/RW

The 19-year-old from Denmark had 100 points in 51 games in the QMJHL last season, a.k.a. he has about as much to prove in junior as Benedict Cumberbatch does in community theater. Still, the Jets are notorious for being like a mama hen sitting on her egg right up until the beak breaks through; while Ehlers would make this forward group much more dangerous, there’s no guarantees he gets that kind of opportunity this season. (And there’s talk he could play overseas if not on the Jets.) But if he does … hooboy. (At the very least, maybe another young standout forward Nic Petan gets the call.)

WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 20: Tyler Myers #57 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates his goal in second-period action in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Anaheim Ducks during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the MTS Centre on April 20, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
WINNIPEG, MB - APRIL 20: Tyler Myers #57 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrates his goal in second-period action in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Anaheim Ducks during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the MTS Centre on April 20, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

Potentially The Best Thing About This Team

The blue line. Byfuglien can hit 50 points in his sleep if he stays in the lineup. Myers appears to have recaptured his game. Enstrom is as stead a veteran hand as they come (and the only left-hand in the top four). Trouba’s a star in the making. Assuming Mark Stuart is on the third pairing. Ben Chiarot, Grant Clitsome, Jay Harrison, Adam Pardy and Paul Postma will be in the mix for the other spot. Unless Josh Morrissey is ready to make the leap.

Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team

Assuming the goaltending can be passible, that bottom six might be an issue. Alexander Burmistrov and Adam Lowry can be a good starting point for a third line but that fourth line is effectively names in a hat entering the preseason. And this is a conference that rolls four deep with regularity.

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Dream 3-on-3 OT Group

Mark Scheifele (49 points) and Blake Wheeler (26 goals) and Trouba (15 points). While Little and Ladd might have more chemistry, these two main components of the team’s second line (along with Mathieu Perreault) brings together an inventive playmaker and the team’s top sniper. And while this might be asking a lot of Trouba defensively, he’s more than up for the task.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

Two. Maurice is in the second year of a four-year extension and clearly has the confidence of management. He coached the team through injuries and off-ice adversity – such as one player allegedly throwing another player’s clothes in an ice bath can be categorized as “adversity” – and earned them a playoff berth. The Jets are still in the midst of a youth movement, and Maurice is their favorite teacher.

Awkward Old School Video Break

An autographed Randy Carlyle cup AND a pan pizza? Was it Christmas every day in 1988?

Their Best Case Scenario Is …

The goaltending holds, the right players stay healthy, the kids come to play and the Jets again make the playoffs in the bottom two, while somehow finding the cap space to retain Ladd and Byfuglien.

Their Nightmare Scenario Is …

The goaltending is sub-mediocre, the Jets can only get one scoring line going, they again average over 13 minutes in penalties per game and fall out of playoff contention by the trade deadline. Sportsnet and TSN become 24-hour Byfuglien Watch networks.

Prediction

Sixth in the Central, a rather tough division in case you hadn’t noticed. It doesn’t come together like it did last season, and the Jets crawl a little more before taking their leap forward. 

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