Is the Honeymoon in Winnipeg Nearing its End?


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On May 28th, 2011, unbridled euphoria spilled into the streets of downtown Winnipeg and throughout the province of Manitoba following the announcement of the Jets return to the NHL. It was a moment which not only had a profound impact on Manitobans, but for the majority of Canadian hockey fans alike. The ‘MakeItSeven’ Campaign finally yielded a tangible result! Fast forward two years and four months to the present, at the behest of yet another new NHL campaign, where the Winnipeg Jets re-incarnation targets their first playoff appearance.

They sure came close during the lockout-shortened 13 season, finishing a mere four points out of ninth in the Eastern Conference. That was a marked improvement on their inaugural year back in the league, where they placed in 11th. Even that season’s performance (2011-12) was a slight uptick from the Atlanta Thrashers last year of existence – a 12th place finish. In fact, despite a rocky ownership situation presiding inAtlanta for many years, since the franchise’s 1999 expansion, they have only the lone 2006-2007 post-season appearance to hang their hats on. For those of you counting at home, that’s a sole playoff berth over 13 season, or six consecutive misses and counting!

Despite annually selecting high in the draft for nearly the entirety of the franchise’s history, all was forgiven by theWinnipegfaithful at the outset of the relocation. A new era was set to begin with the slate wiped completely clean.Winnipegembraced this team in a large way, despite their ‘father’s Jets’ tied to a different team in the desert. Season Tickets were sold out in lightning speed, despite astronomical rates.

Some progress has been made, though new-age Thrashers Jets have by no means accomplished enough just yet to be penciled into a playoff spot by the majority of analysts for Spring 2014. Evander Kane was a young blossoming prospect who really spread his wings upon taking up residence north of the 49th parallel, notching career highs of 30 goals and 57 points over 74 games.

However, during the truncated 48 game 2013 season, he took a slight step backward, with a prorated 26 markers and 51 points over the projected same 74 game spread he played in during the prior full season. He also saw his plus/minus rate take a minus -14 down-swing from 2011-12.


Evander Kane – Career NHL stats




That being said, it’s important to look at the peripherals too, where he did realize some net gains in other aspects of his game. His faceoff percentage shot up closer to hisAtlantalevels while he became more engaged physically than ever before.

As a result of his newly integrated, more aggressive style of play, Evander saw his Hits-per-Game rate demolish his prior career level with a pro-rated 251 hits over a full schedule. To put that into perspective, his prior personal best was 173 hits – hence achieving a 45% improvement on his previous career high. That total placed him in 14th in the NHL in 2013, whereas he sat in 49th spot the year prior – a massive up-spike!

Moreover, his increased power forward presence allowed him to crush his PIM career best, despite playing 25 games fewer than his career average. Expect him to fill up his fantasy stat card all across the board even more so this season. That includes a bounce back from traditional offensive stats, with career highs quite possibly to be set!

However, it’s no secret that the most crucial component of the Jets roster which needs tremendous improvement is between the pipes, if Winnipeghas any chance of spring hockey. The 26-year-old Ondrej Pavelec put together a career season in 2010-11; his last in the state ofGeorgia. With four shutouts and a half decent .917% Save Percentage at the tender age of 24—a teenager in goalie years—he began to solidify his place as the franchise’s go-to netminder of the future.

After following up that solid year with a career high 29-win season in 2011-12, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff rewarded him handsomely with a five year long-term deal worth $19.5 Million. At an annual cap hit of $3.9 Million, this was actually seen as a great bargain throughout the pro hockey community. However, questions have once again arisen as to the future of Winnipeg netminding after ‘Pav’ finished the shortened season ranked an abysmal 30th in the league among qualified goaltenders (Those who have played at least a third {16 games} of the season). He left fantasy owners aplenty disappointed with not even a single shutout for some solace, amidst a trying compressed season where he never did get it going on all cylinders.


2012-2013 NHL GAA (Goals Against Average) Qualified Leaders - ranked 25th through 35th




He’ll be on the hot seat all year should he suffer through a poor October. Meanwhile, Al Montoya has made some serious ground in proving he can be a reliable backstop. He burst onto the NHL scene a few years back in grand style relieving Ilya Bryzgalov inPhoenix. After floundering around misused in the minors for a year, Montoya then came to the rescue of a goaltending carousel gone awry onLong Island. He was certainly impressive in both stints. Though recently, he too has been less than stellar in a relief role. Therefore, it remains to be seen if either netminders’ play will be strong enough to suffice.


Al Montoya’s Career NHL Statistics




A stronger defensive contingent will certainly make thing easier on Jets’ goaltending. The return to health of two top four rearguards, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom (both of whom missed massive chunks last season to injury) will aid the barrage onWinnipeg creases in leaps and bounds. Whereas the rise of Jacob Trouba - who is in a great spot to break camp with the big club, should eventually add depth to the Jets’ backend, possibly as early as mid-season. The ability to allow less attempts on goal and force more off-balance shots will significantly increase the chances of a return to form for Pavelec and Montoya. With a better GAA, that might be just what the doctored ordered to advanceWinnipeg into that much-coveted ninth spot in the east.

Finally, secondary scoring was also a sore spot for the Winnipeg  faithful last season - who saw only four other Eastern Conference clubs score less often than their hometown Jets. The departure of Alexander Burmistrov, who defected to the KHL won’t hurt too much in the big scheme, but won’t make matters any easier either. Although, with the long awaited first full season set to unfold for former Major Junior star, Mark Scheifele, it should prove a catalyst to the previously futile third line. The addition of Devin Setoguchi also remains a mystery in terms of what, if anything, his presence will add to the top nine.

Winnipeg upper brass, has not yet deemed ready to spend to the cap, though their revenue streams and solid ownership indicates that have more than enough resources to spend to the ceiling. Believe me, should the Jets pull of a decent first half to the season, expect their $2.35 million in cap space to be utilized to bolster the roster. Particularly look for a top six personnel complement when that $2.35 million will equate to roughly a $4.7 million (cap hit) player when only half the season remains. With the multi-billionaire Thomson family at the forefront of True North Sports & Entertainment, the cash flow will certainly be available when the team is ready for that extra push for title contention.


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