It’s fair to say the 2016-2017 season has been a disappointment for the Winnipeg Jets.
This season has been a tough pill to swallow when you factor in the team’s prior two seasons. The 2015-2016 campaign was a disappointment as well, with the Jets finishing nine points out of a Wild Card spot. Although the 2014-2015 Jets made the playoffs, finding a positive in being swept in the first-round is hard to do.
Making the playoffs shouldn’t be this hard for a team that has such talent. Mark Scheifele has evolved into a star, Nik Ehlers is an electric two-way force, and Patrik Laine has put up one of the greatest rookie seasons in recent NHL history — but the Jets remain on the outside looking in.
This isn’t just a subjective argument: most public analytical models really like Winnipeg’s skaters and love their top end talent. @DTMAboutHeart’s goals above replacement model has the Jets as the sixth best team in the NHL, while Dom Luszczyszyn ranks the Jets 14th.
Here’s a breakdown of the Jets roster with Dom’s game score model:
This lines up with how most Jets fans view the roster, more or less. Byfuglien is good, Stuart is bad; Ehlers is terrific, Thorburn is not; Perreault vs Lowry is a Rorschach test.
The biggest eye-catcher is the Jets’ top-end skill. In Wheeler, Scheifele, Laine, Little, and Ehlers, the Jets have five first-line caliber forwards. The previously mentioned goals above replacement model has a similar rosy view of the Jets forwards, ranking them as the sixth best group in the league. So why are the Jets just 11th in the league in even-strength scoring? Why can’t The Hockey News’ 2019 Stanley Cup Champions turn talent into wins?
For one, goaltending wasn’t included in that roster breakdown. The Jets have struggled to keep pucks out of their own net for as long as this franchise has been in Winnipeg. But to throw some back-of-the-envelope math at the Jets goaltending problems: this year, the Jets have an 89.7 all situations save percentage, and league average is 90.9%. With average goaltending, the Jets would have allowed 27 fewer goals this season. And at (again, back of the envelope) six goals = one win, that’s four more wins: or an 87-point pace, rather than their current 79-point clip.
Goaltending has taken this team from bad to worse. It doesn’t explain away the Jets’ 49.4 shot attempts percentage, the bottom-feeding special team’s units, or the -22 penalty differential.
If the roster is good enough to make the playoffs, and the goaltending doesn’t explain away all the losing, you get into all sorts of fuzzy unverifiable hypotheses. Is the coaching staff struggling to get through to the players? Are there chemistry issues? A lack of leadership?
Travis Yost had a piece at TSN yesterday where he called the Jets the “league’s biggest disappointment”, and that’s probably a fair label. So what needs to change?Paul Maurice has been an improvement behind the bench compared to his predecessor, but coaching a team this talented to near league worst special teams is inexcusable. The roster depth — particularly on the blueline — needs improvement, if not a full overhaul. Connor Hellebuyck’s crease support should get a big upgrade this summer.
This team should be pushing to contend, not just to get into the playoffs. The point of a rebuild is to add top-end talent, and the pieces are in place for the Jets. Judging by Kyle Connor’s recent demolition of the AHL, the Jets could feature even more offensive wizardry next year. Now they need to figure out how to turn all that talent into a playoff spot.