The Winnipeg Jets are at that point in the season — just past the midway point — where fans and media alike are starting to make firmer determinations in their minds as to whether or not they will be seeing playoff hockey for only the second time since the Atlanta Thrashers made their permanent migration north to the chilly and white winter hockey wonderland.
Hey, it’s not like the state of Georgia doesn’t have the white stuff floating around. There have been reports that every state in the continental United States has seen snow this winter. Well, except one. Florida. So it seems the climate and subsequent weather is changing everywhere. But the Jets… are they ready to turn the figurative leaf and fully blossom into the perennial playoff-bound club Mark Chipman spoke about back in the summer of 2011?
Back in those early days, Chipman et al. said plainly that they didn’t want to just get the Jets into the playoffs — the intention from the start was to get them in and keep them there. A franchise built right, always competitive amongst the best, and on a bedrock foundation that leads to a team that is always in the preseason “who’s in, who’s out?” conversation in a positive way.
They aren’t there yet, that I think we can comfortably say. And I get that fans are getting impatient in Year 6. But I will say that I am impressed with the patience this franchise has shown. Sure, the financial stability of things surely helps the patience from their end, but by all accounts the ownership is emotionally invested in the club and wants a winner as badly as anyone.
The bite of the high-calibre youth is beginning to show its teeth. Morrissey. Ehlers. Trouba. Scheifele. Laine. Hellebuyck. If you said “good times are ahead,” back in 2012 I would have asked you “how do you figure?” Today, I would actually buy it. But the challenge lies ahead. Some pieces are in place. It’s how the Jets’ brass round out the club as teenage sensation Patrik Laine enters his 20s that will determine if they reach their greater goal — playoff permanence.
- Patrik Laine’s unfortunate injury in Buffalo on Saturday is just that — unfortunate. Clean hit. No intent to injure. In essence, it’s unavoidable in the contact sport hockey is. Laine is the special type of player Jets fans have been dreaming and hoping for since Day 1, so take the time to recover right, and do everything to ensure a special player has a long and prosperous career in good health.
- Did you see what happened to the guy who hit Laine, Jake McCabe? If you had any doubt of the intent of the hit, just look at what happened when McCabe’s visor came back and cut him when colliding with Laine. Ouch. Zipper.
- Laine was named to the NHL All-Star roster Tuesday, as the Jets once again will send one lone rep. The festivities begin in Los Angeles exactly three weeks to the day following Laine’s injury. Will he be ready to participate? If he isn’t, Blake Wheeler should go in his absence as the Jets captain was snubbed in Nashville last year and deserves to make his first trip to the event.
- With Laine out of the lineup, I really like Paul Maurice’s decision to keep the lines intact for the most part and promote Drew Stafford from the fourth to the first line, taking Laine’s place alongside Scheifele and Ehlers. Why hit the blender button? Laine’s recovery may take a while. I get it that the perspective on Stafford is mixed in this town (to put it lightly), but I’ve always held the belief that Stafford plays his best hockey when he is alongside better talent, and he has the ability to score, so I feel he will fill-in well.
- More Connor Hellebuyck, please. The more action the young netminder gets, the better for him and the Jets. He earned his third shutout of the season Monday night and looks more comfortable to me when he gets the greater majority workload. Paul Maurice, historically, loves to ride one No. 1 goaltender through the majority of the season. Hellebuyck has won that No. 1 right, so it’s now time to let him ride.