What Went Wrong: Winnipeg Jets

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Welcome to What Went Wrong where we’ll look at each team that failed to make the playoffs. We’ll also end each article by highlighting some players of particular interest on the squad. Those are players who either left something to be desired during the 2021-22 campaign, have significant untapped upside, or have some big underlining questions surrounding them going into the offseason.

We’ve already covered the Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Islanders. Today we’re looking at the Winnipeg Jets.

The Winnipeg Jets’ run of four straight seasons in the Stanley Cup Playoffs came to an end in 2021-22. The Jets finished 19th in the league with a record of 39-32-11 during a year that was plagued by inconsistency.

Winnipeg got off to a 9-3-3 start despite going winless in the first three matches of the season. The team’s four-game win streak from Oct. 21-28 was its longest of the campaign. The Jets didn’t go through many extended winless skids either, with a six-game slump at the end of January being the longest of the year. The team's 16-17-8 record on the road certainly held them back as well.

Winnipeg was in the midst of a 4-7-2 stretch prior to Paul Maurice’s surprising decision to resign as head coach during his ninth season with the organization. Assistant coach Dave Lowry took over on an interim basis, but the mixed results continued and the defensive woes worsened. The team surrendered 3.26 goals against per game played following the change, which ranked 20th in the league, after it sat at 2.75 goals against per game prior to Maurice's departure.

The Jets had problems defensively throughout the 2021-22 campaign. The team allowed the eighth-most shots against per game played (33.2). Under Lowry, Winnipeg permitted 34.2 shots against per game played, which was the fourth-highest total in the NHL. The Jets surrendered the sixth-most scoring chances against and gave up the fourth-most high-danger scoring chances against in all situations. The penalty kill was also concerning during the 2021-22 season and it compounded the team’s struggles in defensive end. Winnipeg placed 29th with a penalty kill percentage of 75.0%. The Jets surrendered the fifth-most power-play goals against (58) and had fifth-highest power-play goals against per game (0.71).

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Winnipeg ranked 10th in save percentage (.907) despite the barrage of shots and chances that were being given up to the opposition. The team’s issues defensively were masked in large part due to the goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck. Still, his performance in 2021-22 was a bit of a mixed bag. He faced more shots than any other netminder, which unsurprisingly led him to making the most saves and allowing the most goals. Hellebuyck ended up with a career-worst 2.97 goals-against average, but according to MoneyPuck he had the highest expected goals against and ranked eighth in goals saved above expected.

The Jets revamped defense group, which added Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon, didn’t make the difference the organization hoped it would. However, it’s not just the defense corps that was at fault for the team’s defensive struggles. The forwards have to shoulder some of the blame as well. Winnipeg has tried in recent years to take some of the pressure off of Hellebuyck, but those attempts have proven to be largely unsuccessful.

However, Winnipeg’s offense managed to hold up their end of the bargain for the most part. Kyle Connor exploded for 47 goals and 93 points in 79 appearances, while Mark Scheifele accounted for 29 markers and 70 points over 67 contests. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler both reached the 60-point plateau. Nikolaj Ehlers racked up 28 goals and 27 assists despite being limited to 62 outings. The top-six forward group has plenty of talent if it stays intact. However, there has been some trade speculation surrounding key forwards Scheifele, Wheeler and Dubois.

The talk of a dramatic shift in direction along with the decision of top-coaching candidate Barry Trotz to sit out the 2022-23 season have contributed to a hectic offseason for the Jets. Trotz, who is a Manitoba native, would have been the ideal candidate for the organization. His attention-to-detail approach to the defensive end would have made him a great fit on the team that is severely lacking in that area. Trotz has also frequently displayed his ability to bring out the best in his players. Winnipeg will need to try to find those qualities in another head coaching option. Additionally, any potential big changes in player personnel may be placed on the back burner for another year, or for at least the start of the regular season, but attempts to retool the roster should be expected. Still, if the Jets continue to struggle with consistency then a significant shake up could be the next course of action. Having said that, it wouldn't be a surprise if the team tried to make another run first at getting back into the playoffs.

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Players to Watch:

Connor Hellebuyck - As previously mentioned, Hellebuyck’s underlying numbers were solid despite the shot and scoring chance volume that he faced. However, he probably wasn’t satisfied with his play during the 2021-22 season and most pundits believe he will be motivated going into next year. Fantasy managers will be looking for a bounce-back campaign from Hellebuyck as well after he his numbers left a great deal to be desired based on his high draft position. A return to his Vezina-like form would go a long way to getting Winnipeg back into playoff contention, but he is in desperate need of more support.

Cole Perfetti - Perfetti accounted for two goals, five assists, 21 shots and 17 hits in 18 games with Winnipeg during the 2021-22 season. He performed well during his first taste of NHL action. When it appeared as though his comfort level had increased he suffered an injury that sidelined him for the final two and half months of the year. Perfetti should be in the mix for a top-six forward spot next campaign and he has the talent to make an impact.

Pierre-Luc Dubois - Dubois has made waves this offseason following a report that he intends to test unrestricted free agency in 2024. Winnipeg would prefer to sign the pending restricted free agent to a long-term extension. However, this interest in testing the open market has attracted other NHL GMs looking for a trade. Dubois hit the 60-point mark for the second time in his career this past season and he produced a career-high 28 goals. It will be interesting to see how the Jets handle this situation.

Mark Scheifele - Scheifele also created some controversy when he was unsure about his future with the team following the end of the 2021-22 campaign. He mentioned that he wanted to know the direction of the team and he planned to take another look to figure out what was best for himself and his family. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff cooled off trade rumors for Scheifele when he said that he expects the forward will be playing for the Jets at the start of the 2022-23 season. However, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a move down the road, especially with him two years away from unrestricted free agency. Scheifele has amassed 290 points (117 goals, 173 assists) over the past four seasons, which leads the Jets and ranks 15th in the NHL.