THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, XXXXXX.
THN’s Prediction: 5th in Central, wildcard team
Stanley Cup odds: 29-1
Key additions: Patrik Laine, RW; Shawn Matthias, LW; Brian Strait, D
Key departures: Grant Clitsome, D
–Was Mark Scheifele’s breakout for real? The Jets have a superstar No. 1 center on their hands if we accept Scheifele’s performance over the season’s final two months as legit. He ripped off 16 goals and 32 points in 25 games after Bryan Little’s season-ending back injury.
That Scheifele’s performance improved when he was thrust onto the top line, facing tougher defense pairings without Little to insulate him, bodes extremely well. Scheifele also has first-round draft pedigree. It’s hardly a stretch to imagine him as a top-10 scorer in the league as soon as this season.
-Will Patrik Laine take the NHL by storm? It sure seems like Laine will light up opposing goalies as an 18-year-old rookie. His powerful, dynamic sniping game reminds scouts of a young Alex Ovechkin. It’s no guarantee Laine immediately excels and wins the Calder, but would you bet against it? He has an NHL body and was named MVP of the Finnish League playoffs last year, facing grown men every night. He’s ready. He’ll make the Jets’ power play deadly with his wrist shot and one-timer.
-Who will be Winnipeg’s No. 1 goalie by year’s end? Winnipeg still pays Ondrej Pavelec, its third-best goalie, a $3.9-million AAV. The Jets handed No. 2 stopper Michael Hutchinson a two-year extension. Meanwhile, their best netminder, Connor Hellebuyck, may have to start the year in the AHL. Hellebuyck looked like he belonged when the Jets called him up to the NHL last year and really should be starting for them now if they want the best chance to win. But it may take a trade or injury to give him the shot he deserves. Hellebuyck remains a good bet to win the job once and for all by season’s end.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
As is the case every season, the Winnipeg Jets have one very significant problem holding them back from contending, and it’s in net. In previous seasons there weren’t exactly many better options, but this year is different as heir-apparent Connor Hellebuyck has shown he’s ready for NHL duty after a brief stint last season. It’ll be difficult for him to get playing time because of the three goalie’s contract statuses, but it’s pretty clear he’s the best of the three.
These projections are based on all three getting their fair share of games, but the trio’s playing time is by far the hardest to predict of any team. With that in mind, here’s their playoff chances based on a few other games played scenarios.
The results are unsurprising, but they do show that a good team is being held back by Pavelec. With Hellebuyck starting (or with Hutchinson), the team is more likely than not to make the playoffs while the opposite is true with Pavelec starting (or with Hutchinson).
That the team is playoff calibre shouldn’t be a huge surprise given the rest of the roster. The team boasts five first line forwards – a tie with Florida and St. Louis for the league lead – according to this model and it’s possible rookie Patrik Laine (underrated here thanks to a low NHLe from the Finnish league) can jump to that level, too. The bottom six isn’t great which could be an issue.
The defense here is solid led by Dustin Byfuglien who is easily among the league’s best and most under-appreciated D-men. Jacob Trouba is a decent number two D-man with room to improve further. After those two, the core is okay, but nothing special. Tyler Myers has bounced back from those rocky Buffalo years while Tobias Enstrom has declined a fair amount over the last few years. The bottom pair is a question mark as to who actually plays on it, but if it’s Mark Stuart the Jets will take a big hit on the backend.
The Jets aren’t an amazing team, and probably not a contender yet either, but they’re on the cusp of something very good. If they play their best man in goal they have a very real chance at getting back to the playoffs.
Up next: Phoenix Coyotes