So close, yet so so far away. Finishing with a record of 24-21-3, the 2013 Winnipeg Jets ended the season with 51 points. A mere four short of the New York Islanders and that highly coveted playoff spot. Unfortunately those four points have changed the tone of Jets fans everywhere from glee and hope to reflection and questioning, and thus here I am writing a review on the season rather than a preview of the newly-branded Winnipeg Jets first playoff matchup.
Buckle up, folks. Throughout this week I’m going to work my way through the forwards, defensemen, goalies, and finish with a summary and my opinions on this season. Today, I go over the Winnipeg Jets forwards.
(Big thanks to behindthenet, nhl.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, capgeek, and leftwinglock.com for all the upcoming numbers)
Coming out of the 2011-12 season, much was said in regards to the Jets needs for more size up front. In response, Chevy went out and signed Alexei Ponikarovsky (traded to New Jersey for a 4th and 7th) and Olli Jokinen out of Calgary to a two year deal worth $4.5 mill a year – a player who, despite some struggles, was still a 60-point producer with an abundance of size. The goal of which was to allow Scheifele more time to develop, while filling a need up front. Problem solved right?
A lack of consistent secondary scoring was a major problem for the Jets this season, and Olli Jokinen may as well be the poster boy for those troubles. With a mere 7 goals and 7 assists for 14 points (approx. 13-13-26 over a full 82 games) the Jets so-called second line center placed tenth on the team in scoring, a point behind Tobias Enstrom who played TWENTY THREE less games. He finished with a relative corsi rating of -2.9 placing him among the bottom half of the forwards and behind players such as Chris Thorburn, while often facing relatively easier opponents (Corsi Rel QoC = -0.065). What Jets fans and management need to hope is that this was nothing more than an “off year”. The projected 26 points over 82 games would have been Olli’s worst season statistically by far, and there is always the possibility that a lack of a training camp or practice time had an effect on his production and chemistry with the team. Worst case scenario? Winnipeg’s Big Macs just don’t do the trick, and the Jets are stuck with him slumping along for one more season.
Oh, and I forgot one thing.
The worst part of Olli Jokinen’s season may have just been, and hopefully will not continue to be, its effect on Evander Kane. Evander’s production slightly dropped this season, producing 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points (29-27-56 over 82 games) which is down from the 33-30-63 that he put up during his first season in a Jets uniform. Now you can try to attribute it to a variety of factors, but I for one feel you mustn’t look further than his center for the majority of the season.
Kane spent over 470 minutes of 5 on 5 time with Jokinen this season, which is more than double the amount of time he spent with any other forward. During that time, they managed to score 0.7 Goals per 20 minutes (GF20), and had 1.2 goals scored against them per 20 minutes (GA20), for a goals for percentage (GF%) of 37%. Yet, when Evander was with any other center throughout the season (a total time of 302:50), he managed a GF20 of 1.2 (+0.5) and lowered his GA20 to a mere 0.6 (-0.6) for a GF% of 67%. Getting Kane away from Olli Jokinen would likely do wonders for improving his offensive production next year, and allow him to develop into the star Winnipeg expects. It may also be important to note that Evander will not be competing for Canada at the upcoming World Hockey Championships. He reportedly has various injuries that he feels need to be dealt with, and therefore will use this offseason to recover. Although it may not sound like much, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
There is though, without a doubt, one line the Jets can always rely on. The line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler were together on the ice for 22% of even strength time this season, ranking them among the most heavily relied upon lines in the league. These three along with Evander Kane were the only players on the Jets to play in all 48 games this year, and managed to put up 46 (18-28), 32 (7-25) and 41 (19-22) points respectively, ranking 1st, 4th and 2nd in team scoring. Not only were they responsible for the offensive output, but Clause Noel also used them defensively. They were constantly matched up against opposing teams’ top lines, as they were the team leaders in quality of competition.
Of the three, Andrew Ladd stands out to me as this teams MVP. He engaged physically, contributed offensively, led the team in relative corsi (if you dismiss Anthony Peluso’s small sample size) with a +9.0 rating, in power play points with 3.60 per 60 minutes, in points, assists, plus/minus, game winning goals, and always showed up when the team needed him. There are intangibles in hockey that stats still just can’t seem to cover, such as leadership, that Andrew Ladd brings to this team as well. He’s around in the community, faces the media after a win or a loss, and acts as a captain should. I find it hard to say something bad about Andrew Ladd and feel as if I can sum him up by saying he is a captain that Winnipeg should truly embrace and love. He will be representing Canada at the World’s this spring, so be sure to watch and see how he looks among some of Canada’s best. He may be a long shot, but who knows, maybe the Jets will have a representative on next year’s Olympic team?
Going into this offseason, there are two players with expiring contracts that will be very interesting stories to follow. Alexander Burmistrov and Kyle Wellwood had very… “peculiar” years to say the least. Both saw their point productions drop from last season, and both spent time in the press box, which I don’t feel was entirely warranted. Especially when you consider the struggles that Jokinen had centering the second line, and Antti Miettien being down right bad. Both Burmistrov and Wellwood had higher relative corsi ratings (6.5 & 3.0) in comparison to Olli Jokinen, while facing tougher competition (Corsi Rel QoC = 0.034 & 0.161) on a regular basis. What I find most interesting though, is how Evander Kane’s production changes with each player. He spent a total time of 201:02 on the ice with Burmi, and saw his GF20 increase from his numbers with Jokinen to 0.9, and his GA20 from to 0.4. With Welly, his GF20 went up to 1.0, and his GA20 down to 0.7 in 144:06. To me, that sounds like Kane was able to produce more offensively, while being more responsible defensively with both of these players in comparison to the time he spent with Olli Jokinen.
But wait Travis, isn’t scoring more goals and allowing less goals a method to winning more games?
Why yes reader, it is. That’s what is leaving me so baffled as to why these guys spent more time in the press box throughout the season than they did on the second line. Lucky for us though, Claude Noel really seemed to have opened his eye’s to Burmi and his abilities near the end of the season. He started complimenting his play to the public, Burmi had his time on ice go up, and the Jets were winning games. Hopefully, we will see a contract signed sooner rather than later and he can continue to grow next season.
Overall, I believe that depth at the forward position is one of the factors that this team needs to improve on in order to take that next step towards being a playoff team. This offseason the Jets have 10 forwards who need new contracts, so the time for change may be right now. Aaron Gagnon and Mike Santorelli looked good down the stretch and may have warranted themselves another look going into next season. Players such as Nik Antropov, Eric Tangradi, Antti Miettinen and Anthony Peluso are guys that may be expendable in order to make room for new bodies or developed players such as Mark Scheifele. Yet, with the thin free agent pool and the Jets financial status I wouldn’t be shocked to see a couple of them coming back for the right price.
The Jets do have some young players who performed well in their respective leagues this past season. March Scheifele stood out with the Barrie Colts finishing the regular season with 39 goals and 40 assists for 79 points in 45 games, and has his team a win away from the OHL finals. Eric O’Dell had another impressive season with the Ice Caps in the AHL, finishing with 29 goals and 26 assists for 55 points in 59 games which led the team and resulted in him taking MVP honors. Finally, Adam Lowry had an did well with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, scoring 45 goals and racking 43 assists for 88 points in 72 games. This resulted in him signing an entry level contract and playing with the Ice Caps to close out the season, where he looked like he belonged at the very least.
Despite falling just short of the playoffs this season, I think there is room for a lot of change and improvement up front for the Jets next season. It would be foolish to expect any of the prospects I just mentioned to step onto the team next year and produce, but the hope is always there as this team moves on and starts to mature as a group.