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Photo Credit: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jets As Hart Trophy Contenders?

The Winnipeg Jets are one of a handful of teams to have never played in a Stanley Cup Final and one of a group to never have a Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. Could one or both droughts change in the 2017-18 season? Bodog has NHL futures up and a review of them shows the Jets are +5000 to win the Cup. Meanwhile, Patrik Laine is +4000 to win the Hart and Mark Scheifele is +6600. Hey, some teams, like Calgary and Vancouver to name two, don’t have a candidate on that prop.

The “current” Jets franchise hasn’t had many awards winners in its history — just Dany Heatley as Rookie of the Year in 2001-02, and Ilya Kovalchuk won the Rocket Richard Trophy as top NHL goalscorer in 2003-04. Those were both when the team was in Atlanta.

In many other seasons but 2016-17, Laine might have won the Calder Trophy as top rookie. Laine finished the year second in scoring among rookies with 64 points in 73 games. His team-leading 36 goals were the most by a rookie in franchise history. Laine, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, missed seven games in January with a concussion or he might have led all rookies in points (he did in points per game at 0.88). That honour went to Toronto’s Auston Matthews (40 G, 29A), who won the Calder. Laine was a finalist along with Blue Jackets defenceman Zach Werenski.

Could there be regression coming for Laine? According to NHL.com, the 27 forwards who were Calder finalists from 2005-16 saw their average scoring rate drop by 2.2 percent (0.80 points per game to 0.78) in their second season. Laine scored on a whopping 17.6 percent of his shots on goal, the highest rate among all players who had at least 200 shots (204) last season. By comparison, NHL scoring leader and Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid had 251 shots and scored on 12 percent of them.

Scheifele led the Jets with 82 points (seventh in NHL), 50 assists (eighth) and at plus-18.  Over the past two seasons, Scheifele has averaged 2.56 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, which is third in the league among those who played at least 1,000 minutes, behind only McDavid and Sidney Crosby.

What to expect from the Jets as a whole after finishing with 87 points (40-35-7) last season? That was fifth in the very competitive Central Division and seven points out of the final wild-card spot won by Nashville, which made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Winnipeg’s defence must improve after allowing 255 goals, fourth-most in the NHL after the Colorado Avalanche (276), Dallas Stars (260) and Arizona Coyotes (258).  They all missed the postseason as well. The Jets spent some money this offseason to boost the defence in goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov.

Mason (26-21-8, 2.66 GAA, .908 SV) with Philadelphia) should split time with Connor Hellebuyck (26-19-4, 2.89 GAA, .907 SV) in net. Kulikov had solid numbers with Florida in 2015-16 but was traded to Buffalo and he struggled with five points and a minus-26 rating last year, limited to 47 games due to back problems.

The offence was No. 7 in the league with 246 goals. Could winger Kyle Connor help this year? The 17th overall pick in 2015 played 20 games with the Jets last year and had five points before being demoted to the AHL and scoring 44 points in 52 games with Manitoba.

A review of Bodog’s odds shows the Jets with a win total of 41.5 wins this season. Two teams with fewer victories made last year’s playoffs: Toronto and Nashville.