Winnipeg Jets 2012-13 record: 24-21-0-3
Key Additions: Devin Setoguchi (Trade, Minnesota) Michael Frolik (Trade, Chicago) Matt Halischuk (FA, Nashville) Adam Pardy (FA, Buffalo)
Key Subtractions: Ron Hainsey (FA, Carolina) Nik Antropov (FA, KHL) Kyle Wellwood (FA, Switzerland) Mike Santorelli (FA, Vancouver) Derek Meech (FA, KHL)
The honeymoon is officially over. Quotes such as “We’re just happy to have a team back” won’t be uttered by Winnipeg Jet fans this year. Expectations have been raised to the point that the fans are demanding playoffs. It won’t be easy. No longer will the Jets compete in the weak Southeast Division as thanks to realignment, the Jets will now compete in the revamped Central Division in the Western Conference. Goodbye Florida. Hello Chicago.
The Jets basically return the same team from last season, with the hope that a couple of rookies can make an impact this season. 2011 first round pick Mark Scheifele and 2012 first round selection Jacob Trouba are both expected to make the Jets opening night roster on October 1, in Edmonton. While both players have very bright futures, they will be under the microscope and it will be risky to impede their development at the highest level.
There are some nights Ondrej Pavelec looks like one of the elite goaltenders of the NHL. Then there are nights Pavelec looks closer to the second coming of Stephane Beauregard. To put it mildly, the Czech Republic native needs to be more consistent between the pipes. Pavelec posted a 21-20-3 record with a 2.80 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. The GAA isn’t the issue as that is a team stat. It is the save percentage where Pavelec needs to post a better number. If the Jets have any hope of reaching the postseason, Pavelec needs to post at least a .920 or better save percentage. With the team still lacking depth in key areas, goaltending will be even more important than usual. Pavelec will need to elevate his game to a higher level. Fair? Probably not. But that’s the hand that has been dealt to Pavelec. It’s up to him to make the best of it. Al Montoya will be the backup and should see 20 games this season.
Another area that needs improvement. The Jets do have pieces to build around on the blue line. Zach Bogosian is emerging as the leader of the defence, and don’t be surprised if he becomes the captain of the club in the future. The 23-year-old rearguard, missed 15 games as he was recovering from offseason wrist surgery, and the Jets felt his absence. The Jets went 6-8-1 with Bogosian out of the lineup, and that slow start hurt the Jets playoff chances last season. A healthy Bogosian is a solid first step for the Jets in 2013-14. The Jets brass believed in Bogosian so much, that they signed him to an eight year contract for an average salary of $5.1 million.
Bogo’s defence partner will be either Grant Clitsome or Tobias Enstrom. Clitsome is a physical presence with his stock 5-11, 215 pound frame, but he is prone to glaring miscues in his own zone. Enstrom provides offensive upside, but his smallish frame (5-10, 180 lbs) is a concern. Opposition teams have learned to attack Enstrom’s side when he is paired with Bogosian, knowing full well the Swede has difficulty with the physical game. Durability is an issue as well. Enstrom has missed 44 games over the last two seasons due to injuries. That Enstrom is locked in for another five seasons at an average salary of $5.75 million makes him virtually impossible to move as no team will risk taking Enstrom for that money. Which way the Jets go depends on what is the better fit on the blue line.
One of Enstrom or Clitsome will partner up with Dustin Byfuglien as the second pairing on defence. When Byfuglien is engaged and wants to play, he can take over a game with his size and skill. However, those moments are few and far between as Big Buff disappears for far too long during games, and is a liability more often than an asset. Byfuglien did come into training camp in great shape, in hopes of earning a shot at the 2014 US Olympic team. However, Byfuglien has struggled in the preseason, while nursing a leg injury. His Olympic dreams are most likely dashed, which could be troublesome for the Jets. How motivated will Buff be when he realizes that the Olympics aren’t a possibility? Only time can tell.
The third pairing will most likely consist of veteran Mark Stuart and rookie Jacob Trouba. Stuart is a grizzled warrior who will sacrifice any part of his body to block a shot. However, his puck movement and mobility is limited and he has taken a beating over the years with his style of play. Stuart is slowing down, but will help out the youthful Trouba. The University of Michigan product has gotten better with each passing day, after some early struggles. Trouba does need to fill out as his 6-2, 187 pound build suggests, but he has all the tools to become a star in this league. Trouba will be one to watch this season.
Adam Pardy, Paul Postma and Zach Redmond are the extra defencemen. Pardy is the most experienced, with five years worth of NHL games. Pardy has spent time with Calgary, Dallas and Buffalo before arriving in Winnipeg via the free agency route. After a slow start, Pardy has improved his play but still handles the puck like a hand grenade. Postma brings offensive upside but has had a difficult training camp to say the least. This is a make-or-break year for Postma and if he can’t crack the lineup on a regular basis, he could be leaving town. Redmond is returning after a horrific injury that nearly ended his career. Since Redmond is on a two-way contract, don’t be surprised if he begins the year in St. John’s.
The Jets have one set line, and a whole slew of questions after that. The trio of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler are set as the number one line. Wheeler led the team with 19 goals while Ladd topped the Jets with 28 assists and 46 points. LLW are the least of the Jets worries.
The second line is in upheaval as coach Claude Noel has yet to figure out who to play with Evander Kane. The 22-year-old power forward is a potential 40 goal scorer, but needs to be with linemates that can keep up with him.
Olli Jokinen was used as the second line centre last season but as noted in a previous article, the Finnish centre was nowhere to be found on many nights. Noel still believes Jokinen and Kane can work well together, but he might be the only one who does believe that silly notion. Mark Scheifele would be the better choice as the second line centre. His vision and hockey sense would compliment Kane much better than the plodding Jokinen.
Newly acquired Devin Setoguchi will be on the right side. The former San Jose Shark and Minnesota Wild brings some much-needed depth on the right side. While Setoguchi hasn’t had the best preseason, he’s slowly starting to find his way here in Winnipeg and the hope is he will be comfortable when the regular season begins.
Because of the uncertainty of the second line, the bottom six is also full of doubt. Michael Frolik was brought in from Chicago to boost the penalty killing. The Czech Republic native is a versatile forward who can move up to the second line if need be. Either Scheifele or Jokinen would drop down to centre the third line. While it does make sense to drop Scheifele to the third line as his defensive game needs work, Jokinen is the preferred choice because his defensive game is vastly overrated by Noel. The final piece of the third line is up in the air. Matt Halischuk has had a decent camp and the former Nashville Predator can be used on the penalty kill. Anthony Peluso and Chris Thorburn are possibilities but both are known more for fisticuffs than hockey. Thorburn in particular is on his last days and will most likely be gone by the end of the season. James Wright is a Noel favourite but he’s best suited on the fourth line with some penalty kill time. Eric Tangradi has had an excellent camp, and a spot on the bottom six is virtually guaranteed for the former Pittsburgh Penguin. Jim Slater is perfect as the fourth line centre. Patrice Cormier could start the season in St. John’s but will be an early call-up, if someone on the bottom six goes down to injury.
A big weakness for the Jets last season were both the power play and penalty killing. The penalty kill got off to a dreadful start, but did improve as the season wore on. The Jets finished 24th in the league with a 79.7% success rate, while a man short. Still, the PK is in need of an overhaul and the addition of Frolik should provide positive change in that regard.
The power play is a different story. The Jets were dead last with the man advantage with a measly 13.8% success rate. The Jets had a difficult time even getting the puck into the attacking zone, as far too often the Jets were stood up and pushed way at the blue line. Enstrom’s injury woes did affect the power play, but even worse was slow puck movement and too much standing still. Basic things such as moving their feet and winning puck battles would improve the Jets power play. Scheifele might help in terms of his passing skills but the preseason has shown that there is plenty of work needed on the power play.
A huge issue for the Jets is that they rarely put in 60 minutes of work. The Jets habitually get off to slow starts, have a strong middle part of the game, only to tire out and fade away late. A -15 goal differential for the Jets in the first period was fourth worst in the NHL, which was followed by a +18 goal differential in the second period, but finished up with a -22 goal differential in the third, which was second worst in the NHL. The Jets allowed 57 goals in the final period which is simply atrocious. If the Jets have any hope of making the playoffs, they have to start and finish games much better.
The Jets also need to hit the net on their shot attempts. The Jets had the sixth most shot attempts miss the goal last season. Too often, the Jets seemed to be aiming their shots, looking for the corners. They just need to put the pucks on net, and get the dirty goals via rebound or deflection.
The move to the Central Division should ease travel issues that plagued the Jets when they were in the Southeast Division. That being said, the Central is fraught with danger and stiff competition. The likes of St. Louis, Nashville and Minnesota are difficult to play against while Dallas made major changes to upgrade their roster. Colorado is a young team that has a bright future. And oh yeah, the Chicago Blackhawks are now a divisional foe. The Jets need improvements in many areas if they want to reach the postseason. Too many things need to go the Jets way and that usually spells doom. The future is bright as management is stocking up the shelves with prospects who could make this team a contender in the near future. But the present is too cloudy at this moment. I have the Jets sixth in the Central and out of the playoffs.
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