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.
(Big thanks to behindthenet, nhl.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, capgeek, and leftwinglock.com for all the upcoming numbers)
Three Burning Questions
As a final summary to my week-long review of the 2013 Winnipeg Jets season, I will answer three major questions. 1) Did the Jets overachieve? 2) Where did things go wrong? 3) What needs to be done from here?
Did The Jets Overachieve?
Coming into this season, the Jets were predicted by many to finish quite low in the overall standings. In fact, both The Hockey News and TSN had the Jets picked to finish 14th in the East. It’s hard to blame them, as simply looking at the Jets lineup doesn’t exactly strike fear into the soul. A group mainly composed of role-players and waiver-wire pick ups, with a couple nice cherries on top tends to be perceived as a destined failure.
Yet when you look a little deeper at how the Jets performed this year, you can make the argument that they finished were they supposed to. The 2013 Winnipeg Jets finished the season in 9th place in the East, and 18th overall in the league. Keep that in mind as I roll through a couple stats.
The Jets’ Fenwick Close was a respectable 49.71%, which placed them 16th overall – almost exactly where they finished in the standings. League-wide, Fenwick Close ranged from LA at 57.3% to Buffalo at 43.5%.
If we turn to PDO, we could say the Jets were overachieving or “lucky”, if their PDO number was be inflated over 1000. Yet, it was actually deflated slightly at 995, ranking them 19th overall in the league. In this short (and more volatile) season, PDO ranged from Pittsburgh and Toronto at 1030 to Florida at 963.
Keep in mind though, that Pavelec’s poor performance throughout the season probably helped pull that number down. Thus, it is possible that the forwards did in general overachieve in order to “save” the Jets from further turmoil. Looking at the Jets shooting percentages, it appears to me that only the top line was shooting with accuracy slightly (and I mean very slightly) above their career averages.
Lastly, and what I think may be the most telling stat, is the Jets record against teams above them and below them in the standings. Against teams that finished the season ranked 1st – 8th in the East, the Jets finished 9-15-2. Against teams that finished ranked 10th – 15th in the East, the Jets finished 15-6-1. Therefore, judging by where they finished in the standings, the Jets tended to lose against the teams that finished above them, and tended to win against the teams that finished beneath them. To me, that says that they finished exactly where they deserved to be this year.
I understand that stats are not everything to a team, but in cases like this they are useful to help define a season. We have often heard from players and Jets’ management that this was a team that clicked together well. They got along in the locker room, meshed on the ice, and enjoyed being around one another. At times, that is all a team really needs to play well. That could provide an explanation as to why Chevy was comfortable with not moving anyone at the trade deadline, and felt that they may be able to pull off a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the talent pool simply wasn’t deep enough for their cohesion to push them much further, but I for one would need some serious convincing to be told that this team overachieved.
Where Did Things Go Wrong?
So, if this team finished where they deserved to and the team’s stated goal was the playoffs, why can’t we call this season a success? What went wrong?
There are two ways to address this question. First, by looking at direct performance on the ice, and second, by looking at the schedule to pin point key losses.
Although this team did mesh, the skill level eventually did catch up to them. This group, due to pure lack of overall skill or perhaps due to injury, simply isn’t good enough. The 2013 Jets needed to be much better defensively. Finishing 25th in the league in goals against with 144, and 23rd in goal differential at -16 says most of the story. The point of hockey is to score more than the other team. When you are allowing nearly 3 goals against a game (2.94) without the skills to score 4 a game offensively (2.62), you aren’t going to win nearly often enough.
I’ve mentioned this all week, but special teams really killed the Jets this year. Dead last on the power play and 24th on the penalty kill are unacceptable numbers for a team that wants to make the playoffs, and needs to improve for this team to take a step. Again, that may be an issue of overall skill, though I discussed the role of coaching in this yesterday.
I can point to skill as an issue because overall, things went wrong with this team after the top line. The Jets need to continue to search for people to play with Evander Kane on the second line if they want to be successful. Organizational depth and the development of players such as Scheifele, Lowry, O’Dell, etc. will truly help that along, but for now we are stuck with hoping that Olli Jokinen can get his act together for next year.
Looking at the schedule, there are a few key points in the season that really were the difference between making and missing the playoffs:
March 5th: The Jets went into Sunrise to play an AHL team wearing Florida Panther uniforms. It was a game the Jets should have easily won, yet a weak performance all around resulted in a 4-1 loss.
March 21 & 22: The Washington Capitals came to town barely hanging on to hopes for the playoffs. The Jets were handed a perfect opportunity to theoretically end any hopes of the Caps coming back to take the Southeast Division, but instead decided to take a couple nights off. Two blowouts of 4-0 & 6-1 scores later, and the Caps had life, the Jets felt pressure, and well, we all saw how things played out.
March 30th: Just about a week later, the struggling Carolina Hurricanes came to town. The Jets had responded well following the embarrassment against the Caps and were looking to go 3-1 over the following week against a team that seemed to have no interest in the season anymore. Instead they came out flat and lost another key game to a weak opponent, their 2nd loss of what would turn into a 5 game losing streak.
April 20th: After what became a major turn around and push for the playoffs, the Jets had a chance to take fate into their own hands again during an afternoon game against the Islanders. After falling behind early and often, the Jets overcame multi-goal deficits twice only to lose in a shootout. Getting a point, but really making any scenario for making the playoffs quite challenging.
April 23rd: The Jets’ last chance to have a chance, so to speak. A win in Washington would have put them into a playoff spot, with their fingers crossed for some out of town help. Yet, the game was emblematic of much of the Jets’ season. A bad goal on Ondrej Pavelec and some terrible defensive play created an early deficit. Hard play from the top line and a little help elsewhere brought the Jets right back, before everything finally slipped out of their hands in a 5-3 loss.
Ultimately, it is hard to look past the Jets record against their own division as a major reason that they did not make the playoffs. They finished a mediocre 10-8-0 against the pitiful Southeast, whereas the eventual Division Champion Washington Capitals went 15-3-0. The season was filled of missed opportunities, many of which came back to bite this team right in the butt.
What Do They Do From Here?
This offseason may finally be the time that the Atlanta Thrashers truly become the Winnipeg Jets. With 18 upcoming free agents (9 RFA, 9 UFA) Kevin Cheveldayoff’s stamp will be placed on this team over the offseason. It’s mostly safe to assume that Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian and Zach Redmond will be back, but players such as Alex Burmistrov may be more of a question mark than many would like to see.
Chevy made it clear during his end of season press conference that he is going to make it possible for his prospects to try out and make next year’s team, so players such as Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba may get a chance to crack next year’s opening night lineup. Aaron Gagnon needs a new contract, Arthurs Kulda needs consideration and a decision on Paul Postma needs to be made. Adam Lowry is making shockwaves throughout the ranks and could compete for a spot, but will likely end up in St. John’s next year, and who can forget the season that Eric O’Dell had in the AHL this year?
I’ve said it multiple times this week, but the franchise as a whole needs to develop and create more organizational depth. The free agent pool this offseason isn’t exactly huge, so the Jets need to continue building from within, draft well, and grow. This is the end of year “2” (1.5) in what was basically a reset in Winnipeg, and there is still a long way to go before this team is competing for a Stanley Cup. That being said, I feel that this team is maybe a year or so away from getting into the playoffs, and with the proper adjustments and improved goaltending, I believe there is hope for this Jets team moving ahead.
Your 2013 Winnipeg Jets
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