The Winnipeg Jets have been a consistently mediocre team since moving north from Atlanta: not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get a high draft pick. Everyone else in their division improved this, but the Jets stayed relatively the same. That’s why we have them finishing last in the Central.
2013-14 record: 37-35-10
Acquisitions: T.J. Galiardi, Mathieu Perreault
Departures: Devin Setoguchi, Olli Jokinen, Al Montoya, Zach Redmond, Edward Pasquale, Jerome Samson, Andrew Gordon
Top five fantasy options: Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Winnipeg Jets have been competitive every year since arriving from Atlanta, and they can get over the hump if they keep improving from within. Center Mark Scheifele emerged as an everyday NHLer last season and will take another step forward. Blueliner Jacob Trouba made a massive splash as a rookie, establishing himself as an offensive force with snarl. He’s the star Winnipeg can build around. The offense will spike if puck-moving D-man Josh Morrissey and 2014 first-round sniper Nikolaj Ehlers arrive head of schedule.
The Jets have seasoned talent up front (Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Evander Kane) and on defense (Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian). They also have an excellent third line. Michael Frolik was a steady two-way presence last season, and free agent grab Mathieu Perreault is among the league’s most efficient scorers, having tallied 18 goals in 69 games with Anaheim despite playing 13:52 a night. If the young talent catches up with the vets, the Jets will join the playoff hunt.
Bust: Among the veterans, all but Kane have no-movement clauses, despite not guiding the club to the playoffs. It’s odd that the Jets let backup Al Montoya walk in free agency, as Ondrej Pavelec was as weak as any NHL starter last season, tying for 45th in save percentage at .901. It’s a mistake to rely on him, especially when backup Michael Hutchinson is unproven, even if he has excelled in the American League.
Until Ehlers becomes a full-time NHLer, no facelift appears in store for Winnipeg’s woeful power play, as the Jets don’t have an elite playmaker. For all the talk of coach Paul Maurice transforming the team, Winnipeg sagged after a strong start under his guidance. This team lost more than it gained, and that’s terrifying considering how overmatched they are against Central Division opponents, each of whom got better on paper in the off-season. The Jets could find themselves contending for the lottery, especially if Pavelec doesn’t improve.
Bottom Line: The Jets aren’t that bad, but they play in by far the NHL’s deadliest division. They’d be better off in the Eastern Conference, back in the cozy confines of the now-defunct Southeast. Go figure. They’ve putted along between 80 and 87 points for five straight seasons, and the mediocrity will continue. They lost 20 of 29 games against the Central last season, and every team in the division except them made major improvements.
Prospect To Watch: Carl Klingberg’s professional career has been a roller coaster ride so far. The 2009 second round pick has good speed and size, but his production in the American League has come in waves. He scored a promising 37 points three years ago as an AHL rookie, but couldn’t build on it as his production dipped to 23 points in 2012-13. Last season, Klingberg bounced back for a 43-point output. Once considered to have second line potential, if Klingberg becomes an NHL regular it now seems more likely he’ll do it as a third-liner. He’ll be given another shot at cracking the Jets lineup in a depth role, but if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, he should be given the opportunity via call-up. At 23 and on a one-year contract, time is running out for him to find a home with the Jets.
THN’s Prediction for 2014-15: Seventh in Central Division
Contributors: Matt Larkin, Rory Boylen