Winnipeg Jets Season Preview: Honeymoon is Over

Having played one of the most difficult travel schedules in the league last season, the Winnipeg Jets fared respectfully well in their new city. The rabid fan base was excited to have NHL hockey back and the teams play at MTS Centre showed it. The Jets had 23 wins at home last season, fourth-best in the Eastern conference and two teams with more wins at home in the West. What went wrong for the team that finished 11th in the East was their road record of 14-22-5. They were seven points out of a playoff spot, and they could have been more of a contender had they stolen a few more points away from home.

Entering their second season north of the border, it’s time for the Jets to make strides on the ice and prove to the fan base they can be a constant contender. Before they can do that, they first have to re-sign Evander Kane. Kane currently sits off the roster as a restricted free agent, and the team might will likely not make a move on a contract with him until the league and players union figure out a collective bargaining agreement. The contract that just ended was front-loaded from the Atlanta days that carried a cap hit of $3.1 million but he earned $900,000. He was the teams leading scorer (30 goals) and second-best point earner with 57 points. Look for him to look for a cap hit around the $5 million range because the team will need cap space next summer as the leading point and assist scorer (Blake Wheeler) will become a restricted free agent.

At 21 years old, Evander Kane will be looked upon to lead the team on the scoresheet in the coming years once his contract situation with the club is handles. (Getty Images)

Aside from those two, the team didn’t have a NHL-caliber first line last season due to a lack of depth. They aided that as they signed Olli Jokinen and Alexi Ponikarovsky during the off-season. Look for Jokinen to center the top line with Wheeler and Kane which will become a scoring threat. Kane is only 21 and is hitting the prime years of his career and will be looked on to increase his scoring output now that he has a top-notch center on his line.

On defense, they made improvements as they allowed 23 less goals than 2010-11 but they they were still one of the bottom-rung teams finishing 26th in goals allowed. They have the same players as before, which will be a challenge for bench boss Claude Noel to improve upon. One thing that is key is their ability to stay healthy as five of their top six defensemen spent time on injured reserve. Dustin Dyfuglien returns with a healthy knee that caused him to miss 16 games last season and will continue to become one of the league’s elite on the blue line. He was second in the league in points among D-men with 53, and is a sponge for ice time with a team-high 24:06 per game average. He’ll be joined by Tobias Enstrom who was among the team’s leaders in assists with 27.

One defensive area that did have turnover was goaltending. Ondrej Pavelec is still in goal, but backup Chris Mason departed for Nashville. Al Montoya is the new No. 2 goalie, and he brings a 9-11-5 record with him from New york Islanders. He’ll be key in the middle to late segments of the season as the teams abysmal 4-8-1 January record that factored in them missing the playoffs could be attributed to Pavelec playing a lot. He played in 68 games and was along the top ten in minutes logged.

As much as Winnipeg looks to be one of those “last teams in the playoffs/first teams out” type of teams, the deck is already stacked against them. They still remain in the Southeast division with constant travel to the southeastern U.S. mentally draining. In addition, teams won’t be caught off guard by playing at MTC Centre. The fans will be loud and bring the energy every night, but they are still a year or two away from being in the playoffs.


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