“We’ve got a lot of room to improve. But before you can get to any of that, you’ve got to accomplish what was accomplished this year.”
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice perfectly captured his team’s 2014-15 season when he spoke following the Jets’ elimination from the playoffs at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks.
It also captured one of the team’s biggest strengths over the last few seasons: patience.
Now that they have reached the status of a playoff team, can the Jets continue their steady incline and build on their success?
Roster-wise, there’s no reason to believe they won’t. The fact that there aren’t a lot of new faces on the team works in their favour — the core has had ample time to develop the chemistry we saw last year — and it gives the club the chance to integrate the considerable young talent they’ve developed (and done so with patience) over the last few years.
Head coach: Paul Maurice
GM: Kevin Cheveldayoff
Team payroll: ($58.86 million of $71.4 million cap)
Last season record: 43-26-13
Goals for: 230
Goals against: 210
PP: 17.8 per cent, ranked 17th
PK: 81.8 per cent, ranked 13th
Corsi for 60: 55.7 (via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)
Key acquisitions: After the blockbuster trade that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo, the Jets are prepared to let their deep prospect pool do the talking rather than make a splash in the off-season free agent market. They did, however, bring forward Alexander Burmistrov back from the KHL.
Rookies to Watch: Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Nicolas Petan, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets have one of the deepest prospect pools in the NHL and have insisted on not rushing the development process. Of the top prospects, expect Ehlers to break into the lineup. Morrissey might just prove himself ready for the big-league blueline with a strong training camp and pre-season.
Highlight of 2014-15: The moment Jets fans had been waiting nearly 20 years for — a return to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Forwards: The Jets’ lineup of forwards hit its stride last year, led by the strong chemistry between veterans Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and top-scorer Blake Wheeler added character and grit. And while they lost Frolik to the Flames in free agency, there are more goal-scorers coming down the pipeline, led by Ehlers.
Defence: The Jets’ solid defence corps, led by Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, limited opponents to a franchise-best 210 goals against. A consistent (and consistently healthy) season from the back end could prove to be what propels the Jets to a second-straight playoff berth.
Goaltending: The emergence of an impressive Michael Hutchinson was one of the Jets’ biggest surprises last season, and all signs point to him having another strong year. Veteran Ondrej Pavelec struggled at times, but found his stride when it counted most. That tandem should give the Jets confidence in the crease this year. And with up-and-coming prospect Connor Hellebuyck knocking on the door from his AHL crease, the Jets’ net looks like it’s in good hands.
The Jets will have a successful season if… they can maintain the momentum of last year and solve the elephants-in-the-room that are the contracts of pending UFAs Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. Distractions could be detrimental for this momentum-filled team.
The Jets will have a disappointing season if… they don’t make the playoffs. Sure, it’s the goal of every team in the league. But now that they’ve reached the post-season and sent a message to the league, anything less will surely be a disappointment.