© Geoff Brookes
Extract from Wikipedia, sometime in the future:
“In their seventh season in Winnipeg, the Thrashers/Jets franchise broke through, at long last. They finally won a playoff game – their first playoff victory ever for the franchise, in their 19th season in the NHL! They finished 8th in league scoring. While they were still only 16th in goals against, it was a vast improvement over prior seasons in Winnipeg – good enough for them to finish with 105 points, second in the Central division. The Jets also achieved their first ever playoff series victory, dispatching the third place Minnesota Wild in a hard-fought series, where the Jets’ fans anger erupted in the stands of game 6 in Minneapolis. But the Jets won game 7 for a delirious crowd at Bell MTS Place. The Jets 2017-18 would end after another eventful series against the Nashville Predators, who shut down the much-vaunted Jets offence with a stifling defence. While the season had ended, it was clearly the most successful in Franchise history, to that point in time.”
This imaginary extract from Wikipedia is my prediction for this upcoming 2017-18 season for the Winnipeg Jets.
Now that I have your attention…
The Winnipeg Jets will need to improve in the following areas, for this bullish prediction to hit the mark:
- They need to stay healthy throughout the year.
- They need to get strong performances from players in depth roles.
- They need to reduce the number of minor penalties that they take.
- They need to improve their team defence, penalty killing and goaltending. (I know that you will object that this is three things, but they are inter-related issues).
- They need to get still more of their talented prospects working effectively with the big club. I am specifically looking for Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor to be productive players in the Jets’ bottom 6 forwards this year. This helps with depth at forward, secondary scoring, and overall team development.
But most of all, they need Paul Maurice to assert himself as a winning head coach in the NHL.
Most fans (and media personalities) regarded the 2016-17 season as a disappointment for the franchise. The frequent refrain was “How is a team this talented not in the playoffs?”
Interestingly, out of 14 full seasons that Maurice has coached at the NHL level, the Jets’ 2016-17 season was actually the fifth best of his career, for points in the standings. (The best year was 2014-15, the only Jets 2.0 playoff appearance to date). And yet 2016-17 is generally viewed as a set-back – the one that got away. The team took too many penalties, didn’t kill penalties well, and suffered from a general lack of team defence and goaltending.
There are reasons for optimism for the Jets in 2017-18:
- Improved depth, especially at the critical goalie position.
- Reports are that Hellebuyck has had a productive offseason, working on his technique at a reputable NHL goalie camp.
- One more year of development for the many young players.
But above all else, head coach Paul Maurice must prove that he can be a 100-point coach in the modern NHL.
He needs to motivate veteran players like Dustin Byfuglien to adapt their games as they age, and to play within a system that emphasizes defence and structure. The greatest opportunity for team improvement are in the areas that the team has had the greatest past weaknesses. If Big Buff can convince the younger players that he (and they) should buy into the commitment to team defence, then Paul Maurice will succeed, and so will the Jets.
If PoMo can’t earn this commitment from Buff, it probably goes downhill from there. This rests on the shoulders of Paul Maurice.
This is it.
It’s the year that Maurice proves himself. It’s the year that the Jets break out, and shock the NHL. It’s the moment when that the years of excellent drafts create lift for the Jets 2.0, and they burst through the clouds, surprising their NHL rivals.
Put on your helmets. We’re about to take off.