(Welcome Dimitri Filipovic to JetsNation. Dimitri is normally a Canucks blogger, but has agreed to fill in around here from time to time)
The 2011-12 season was a great one for the Winnipeg Jets franchise.
In the spring of ’11, things seemed bleak for the then moribund Atlanta Thrashers, having lost their signature player (Ilya Kovalchuk), and nearly everything else imaginable. The team had missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season (after having qualified for the first time back in ’06-’07) and had no real following. If you were once a Thrashers fan, and you take offence to that, I apologize. But you’re a rare breed.
Even though they failed to make the playoffs in their first season in Winnipeg, they gave ample reason for renewed optimism. There are numerous exciting young pieces present – that should be there for the long haul – with reinforcements on the way, in the form of strong prospects. And their fans are all sorts of rowdy. That’s something that you can build off of and get behind. There’s still plenty of growth, and development that needs to take place, but what we saw last year was encouraging.
But remember, if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards. And it’s time for this franchise to do the former. What needs to happen for them to build off of last year’s revitalizing season?
Read Past the Jump for More.
Obviously a good place to start would be with the exetremely complicated analytical formula that reads something like:
Goals Scored > Goals Allowed = Greater Probability of Winning.
I do hear that would be a helpful way of going about creating prolonged success. But let’s look at things on a grander scale:
As you’d expect of a young team, the Jets thrived at home last season – they were 23-13-5 when they were afforded the luxury of going through their regular routine in Winnipeg. The MTS Centre was rockin’ and rollin’ whenever the Jets hit the ice, and the support was evident in their play. One of the more memorable occasions of the regular season came during a game in March, when the raucous crowd serenaded Ryan Miller with a "silver medal" chant.
Unfortunately, all 82 games can’t be played in the MTS Centre, and those fans can’t travel with them to opposing arenas.
Last season, the Jets had the 6th biggest discrepancy in points accrued on the road, compared to at home, with an 18 point gap. Three of those teams – the Blues, Red Wings, and Blackhawks – weren’t terrible on the road, but were simply on another stratosphere when playing in their home arena. For the Jets to take that next step, they’ll need to become more efficient at going into opposing rinks, staring down adversity in the form of a crowd that’s attempting to propel the other team, and still managing to take the two points back with them onto their flight out of town.
RUNNING LOW ON JET FUEL
On March 8th, the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals were tied in the standings with 72 points. In the final 15 games of the season, the Jets went 5-8-2, whilst the Caps went 9-4-2.
And that’s the difference between hitting the golf course, and getting a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup in today’s NHL. There is so much parity, that we see a lot of tussling for position during the final month of the season.
The first crack at intense playoff-like hockey for a lot of the youngsters on the Jets surely left a bitter taste in their mouths. They fell flat on their collective faces. Fortunately, that’s what makes sports so great – the chance at redemption the following season. One year’s goat, can be another year’s hero. That experience may have ultimately been a good building block for this particular team.
KEEPING THE LOOSE CANNON IN CHECK
Holy meltdowns, Batman.
Other than a few glaring exceptions – think Tim Thomas, as a most recent example – there’s a clear difference between what the flashy, exciting goaltender, and what the one whose unsexy stability gets the job done, bring to the table. Your preference will likely be determined by what you’re looking for. Is it entertainment? Or is it winning?
What allows a goalie to make remarkable saves that are featured on the highlight reel? Sure, there’s athleticism and timing involved. But more times than not, the only reason he’s in the position to make that sort of stop is due to poor positioning, largely caused by overplaying in the crease.
There’s no bigger culprit than Ondrej Pavelec, as it relates to this idea. If you catch him on the right night, he’s as exciting as it gets between the pipes. He’s making saves that he has no business making, and before you know it, he’s standing on his head to the tune of a 35-game shutout. You could legitimately stumble onto a random Jets game during the year, and convince someone who is new to hockey that he is one of the best goaltenders in the world.
That’s the good. Then there’s the bad – last season, Pavelec had 13 games in which he allowed at least 5 goals (including two games with 7 goals allowed, and one where 8 pucks went past him). There were far too many nights where the Jets had no chance of winning, because it seemed like everytime the opposing team entered their zone, the puck was going into their net.
I still think that Pavelec has a chance to be an above league average goaltender, for many years. I’m still on the fence when it comes to whether the five-year, $19.5 million was a good or bad move. If he attains some sort of consistency, it will become a bargain for the Jets. At the same time, there’s a chance that it blows up in their faces. But it was a risk worth taking.
Flashy is fun, when you’re flipping through channels at the end of the night. But that’s not what puts you in a position to succeed in the National Hockey League. For Ondrej Pavelec, more is less. And fewer blow-ups will give the Jets a chance next season.
SAY NO TO CANNIBALISM
Depending on who you talk to, you may hear that fear is the ultimate motivator. That theory may be put to the test this season, when everyone on the Winnipeg Jets roster fears for their lives every time Dustin Byfuglien approaches them in the locker room and on the ice.
In case you somehow failed to come across the photo below, it was taken at Dave Bolland’s July 13th wedding. He has never exactly been the trimmest of the bunch, but this latest installment of ‘Big Buff’ has taken things to a whole new level. It’s hard to believe that he has passed up eating just about anything this summer.
For all the grief he routinely takes, he was pretty darn good for the Jets last season. He’s a match made in heaven with defensive partner Tobias Enstrom. As Cam Charron pointed out, his weight doesn’t necessarily matter to the Jets organization unless it begins causing his body to break down. And at this point, that is a legitimate concern. I can’t even imagine the pounding his knees and lower extremities are taking. Considering the Jets have north of $20 million invested in him over the next four seasons, you’d like to hope that he won’t be reporting to the team in this shape.
For the Jets to succeed, they’ll need another strong campaign out of Byfuglien. If not, then all fans may have to look forward to is the next season of ‘The Biggest Loser’, staring Byfuglien and fellow Jet Kyle Wellwood.
Of course all of this is irrelevant if a deal isn’t reached for a new CBA, to allow the puck to be dropped on the 2012-13 season. While the Jets aren’t necessarily in any rush to win right now, I don’t need to tell you that it would be a shame for us to miss out on watching them this season. For anyone that is a fan of a different team – especially one that is in the Western Conference, as is the case with myself and the Vancouver Canucks – they are one of the teams on the short list for needing to be followed from afar. I want to know what’s happening with this team, and not just because we’ll be becoming far more familiar with each other on this platform.
Think of the poor Winnipeg fans, who finally got what they spent 15 long years waiting for. And now you have to look them straight in the face, and tell them that all they’re left with is the lowly Winnipeg Blue Bombers? I don’t envy you, Mr.Bettman.