The Winnipeg Jets, to put it lightly, have had a bumpy road for the last five or so years. It’s odd to say since they’ve qualified for the playoffs for four straight years. The club went through much more than meets the eye, judging based on more than just playoff appearances. That flux they faced in the last chunk of time appears to be wrapping up, and they could make some serious noise in 2021-22. Watch for this team to take a major step forward.
Winnipeg Jets Poised for Major Step Forward in 2021-22
It’s been a weird road to get here, but it really should all be worth it now. To review that “weird road”, take Paul Maurice’s entire history as the franchise’s head coach into view. In his first full year as head coach, they squeaked into the postseason for the first time since 2006-07 (back when the team was still the Atlanta Thrashers). Then, they missed out again in the next two campaigns.
Next came 2017-18, where the team burst out in a big way; they went 52-20-10, and lost in the Conference Finals to the Vegas Golden Knights. (Hockey fans remember this season well. It was Vegas’ inaugural season, their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Washington Capitals ultimately played spoiler, and we got to watch Alex Ovechkin party all summer celebrating his first Cup Championship.)
Winnipeg Jets Recent History
Since their Conference Finals year, Winnipeg went from sitting on the cusp as a Cup contender to nearly reaching rebuild territory. A wild offseason a couple of summers ago saw their blueline become a revolving door.
Dustin Byfuglien walked away from hockey, Tyler Myers left via free agency, and Jacob Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers, all in the summer of 2019. All three of those defencemen logged over 20 minutes a night, Byfuglien and Trouba as the two most-used players on the entire roster too.
The next season, unsurprisingly, Winnipeg took a step backwards and lost in the Qualifying Round of the expanded, 24-team playoffs.
Becoming the 2021-22 Jets
Last season definitely looked like a bit of a bounce-back for the franchise, albeit with its own collection of challenges. Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic left via trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Dubois didn’t produce nearly what was expected after the acquisition, either. In another season affected by the pandemic, Winnipeg played in the NHL’s North Division. That meant only matching up against fellow Canadian franchises. They finished third in the division, then swept Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the postseason.
They then fell in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal went on to the Stanley Cup Finals, ultimately falling short of the ultimate goal.
Outlook on Offense
Winnipeg finished 12th in the league in scoring, averaging 3.04 goals per game. They boasted three 20+ goal scorers, impressive in a shortened season with just 56 games. Kyle Connor‘s 26 goals led the team, a total that projected him to surpass the 40-goal plateau over an 82-game season. Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers both scored 21, plus Blake Wheeler, Andrew Copp, Paul Stastny, Mason Appleton and Adam Lowry reached double digits. Only Appleton will not return (after his selection by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft).
With all those pieces coming back, the team looks strong offensively. Dubois should bounce back to some degree, and any extra production from him can only help that much more.
Outlook in Net
Most of the time, analysis delves into forwards, then defencemen, then goalies. However, with the Jets, their offence and goaltending remain largely the same from last year to this year. So, why not re-cap what won’t change before diving into what will?
Probably the biggest constant in Winnipeg for the past five seasons has been Connor Hellebuyck. He posted a .916 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average last season, going 24-17-3. The team boasted the number six overall save percentage league-wide, at .911. Remember that this team’s weakness of late has been defence, ever since the blueline exodus in 2019. The fact Hellebuyck continues posting the elite numbers year after year regardless of the players in front of him speaks volumes to where this team can go with a stronger defence.
Now, backup Laurent Brossoit did leave for Vegas via free agency. Eric Comrie signed with Winnipeg in his place and is slated to back up Hellebuyck, at least for now. Hellebuyck historically carries a large workload so they may be comfortable with this tandem. But if Comrie’s general lack of experience becomes a concern, the franchise may opt to obtain a safeguard goaltender for depth insurance.
Outlook on Defence
This is where the money is at. Winnipeg gave up the 12th-most shots on goal last year. Thanks to Hellebuyck’s stellar save percentage, they still ranked 10th best in goals against. But, beyond just shots and goals, the team didn’t post fantastic advanced statistics and metrics. Their Corsi-for percentage sat at 48.1, ranked 21st out of 31 teams. The quality of chances they gave up was simply too high; expected goals against for Winnipeg was third-highest in the entire league.
The numbers tell a very obvious story: Hellebuyck is erasing a lot of problems on his own. So, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made some significant decisions this summer to fix that issue.
Defenceman Brenden Dillon came over via trade from the Capitals on July 26th. Then, the very next day, Nate Schmidt arrived from the Vancouver Canucks. Both trades only saw draft picks go the other direction, bolstering the lineup immediately today without subtracting from it at all whatsoever.
Jets Aim To Raise the Bar in 2021-22
Let’s put it all together now. While gambling with real money is tempting right now, we should get a better idea soon after the season starts. Their offence ranked in the top half of the league last season and returns largely intact. Their goaltending will be great as long as Hellebuyck is Hellebuyck. And, most importantly, they added experience and consistency to their blueline this summer.
Winnipeg will return to the Central Division in 2021-22 and compete against the likes of the Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild for a playoff spot. At this point in time, they look like a team that could push the Avs for the division title. They view themselves as a team that is in win-now mode, and should absolutely qualify for the postseason. Anything short of the Conference Finals (or, at the very least the Semifinals) would be a disappointment. Winnipeg is ready to make some noise.
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