After a couple seasons of playing in the East, the Jets finally get to settle in the confines of the Western conference. But that doesn’t mean things will get easier. They will actually become harder. The bonus points of playing at the raucous MTS Centre against unsuspecting opponents will fade away, and the demands of a hockey-crazed Canadian city will begin to increase.
The Jets barely missed the playoffs last season, and unfortunately their chances of making the playoffs in the West aren’t much better.
First order of business is they have to perform better on the road. They ranked 27th on the road two seasons ago and did manage to become the best road team to miss the playoffs last season. But last season they did have a minus-17 goal differential on the road. Had that gap been a little smaller, they could have had enough points to overtake New York Islanders for the final playoff spot.
General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff addressed the scoring problem by bringing in Michael Frolik via trade at the draft. Don’t expect him to lead the team in offense, he’ll be expected to be a depth person with 20 goals being a target.
The main key to success for Cheveldayoff is to have a framework of consistency. At times last season they were playing pong pong between leading the division and being in contention for the lottery. It’s going to have to be one or the other for the Jets this season in the West.
The offense still has many young players on the roster, but it’s time some of them take their play to the next level. At the top of that list is Evander Kane. He had a disappointing season last year despite being third on the team in points with 33. If Kane’s play picks up, expect the play of the rest of the team to follow along.
At the top of the offensive list is returning leading scorers Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Oli Jokinen, and Bryan Little. They’ll have help with the acquisition of Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota. Setoguchi came over for a second round pick and he should be able to contribute with 23 goals and 45 points.
Jokinen’s poor play has him at risk of losing his spot on the top line. He’s also entering the final year of his contract, which will make him prime trade bait because the team has their younger core signed long-term. Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood are also centers who didn’t perform up to standard last season. Both players are at risk of being benched in favor of prospect Mark Scheifele. He played in four games last season and is expected to see more time with the big club this season.
On paper they were an average defensive team, but it was skewed because they allowed the seventh most goals in the league on the road. They did allow 11 less goals at home but it was still the 20th most goals allowed. They have a solid core in Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, and Mark Stewart. The third defensive pairing will be a competition between new addition Adam Pardy and veterans Zach Redmond, Grant Clitsome, and Paul Postma.
On the penalty kill, they scored one shorthanded goal as well as ranking one of the weaker teams with killing 79.7 percent of their penalties.
Ondrej Pavelec hasn’t felt much heat, but if he does worse than he did last season (2.80 GAA, ,905 save percentage), then he might find himself competing with a journeyman backup. They had Chris Mason, but since he wasn’t able to play much he sought greener pastures somewhere else. They do have Al Montoya as backup, and he played the five games last season which Pavelec didn’t play. Expect Montoya to play especially if Pavelec struggles out of the gate.
Most people are writing them off for the making the playoffs. Not so fast my friend. They might be the team to best benefit from realignment. Aside from Chicago and St. Louis, no one else in the division is a lock to make the playoffs. This means the coveted third playoff spot from the division is up for grabs and the Jets can easily be in the mix.