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Photo Credit: © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Know Your Central Favourites: Winnipeg Jets

Over the past week we have been previewing every Central Division team and projecting where they will finish in the standings. This is important for the Jets because of the sheer amount of games they play within their own division. It’s nice to get a quick look to see what the Jets are up against to start the year.

Today we will do our last Central preview about the Winnipeg Jets. It will follow a similar format and will help jog your memory in case you forgot some details of last season. It will cover why the Jets were so good last year, their off-season moves, and where they project to finish at the end of the upcoming season.

Last Year’s Performance

  • 52-20-10
  • 114 points, 2nd in Central Division, 2st in NHL (Lost in Conference Finals)
  • 52.39 CF%, 52.82 xGF% (courtesy of Corsica, all numbers adjusted)

The Winnipeg Jets proved all doubters wrong as the rose to the upper echelon of the league with the second best record by year’s end. At the beginning of the season a lot of fans were hopeful that the Jets could push for the playoffs, but it’s fair to say that nobody expected to be the so high in the standings.

What caused this astronomic rise in the standings?

When looking at the Jets past season, they were great in nearly every single category. They placed 2nd in goals for with 3.33 per game and 5th in goals against with 2.63 per game. Their special teams was dominant as well by boasting the 5th best power play and 9th best penalty kill. Obviously if a team is ranked in the top ten for all of these categories, they will be near the top of the standings by the end of the year.

The question now remains, why were the Jets so good at all these statistical categories? Let’s break them down one by one to see.

Goals For

As mentioned previously, the Jets were second in the league in goal scoring last year. This phenomenal output came from multiple sources throughout the entire lineup. While some teams only have one line that can score goals, the Jets top six is incredibly dangerous at all times.

Blake Wheeler led the way for Winnipeg by scoring 91 points, a new career high. This was due in large part to the Jets second highest point scorer, Patrik Laine who had a great sophomore season with 44 goals and 26 assists. In addition, the Jets had both Scheifele and Ehlers score 60 points (Scheifele did so in only 60 games), and had Connor score over 50 points.

The depth was impressive as well as Byfuglien and Little scored over 40 points and both Perreault and Myers had over 30 points.

This depth meant that the Jets could score in many different ways and each game a different line could step up and contribute.

Powerplay

Another factor in the Jets scoring ability is their power play. Their power play was 5th in the NHL and scored on 23.4% of their opportunities. The interesting thing about the Jets power play is where they shoot the puck from.

This heat map doesn’t look too encouraging at first glance. There is very few shots from the high danger area right in front of the crease and if this was applied to most other teams, their power play would likely be faltering. But…. The Jets are not just any other team. In those purple spots that we see, they have Laine, Byfuglien, Scheifele, and Wheeler blasting it. When there is so much talent, specifically shooting talent, the Jets can afford to not take shots from right in front of the net.

Goals Against

The Jets played great team defense throughout the year, but it was bolstered by the fantastic play of Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck finished the year with a .924 SV% and a 2.36 GAA. Out of goalies that played more than 40 games last year this put Hellebuyck 5th in SV% and 4th in GAA. Couple these great numbers with the most wins in the NHL and you get the runner up for the Vezina trophy.

As mentioned in my Nashville preview, when you have one of the league’s top netminders, it will definitely propel you higher in the standings. Winnipeg Jets fans can especially appreciate this goaltending performance after the lackluster seasons that Ondrej Pavelec produced year after year.

The one rough spot in regards to goaltending was Steve Mason. Mason was originally the starter last October until he got lit up during the first two games. It was a struggle from there as Mason continually got hurt with multiple concussions and a knee injury. His play just wasn’t the same as he finished the year with a .906 SV% and a 2.36 GAA.

Penalty Kill

Strong goaltending and a strong penalty kill usually go hand in hand. The Jets had an interesting strategy on the penalty kill as they allowed plenty of passes along the outer edges of the rink but cut off anything through the middle of the ice.

This heat chart shows how much the Jets focused on keeping the opposition away from the prime scoring areas. They made sure to bunch together and not allow cross-seam passes which in turn allowed Hellebuyck to stay square to the shots without having to quickly move from side to side.

In the Playoffs

After a great regular season the Jets were headed to the playoffs where they easily dispatched the Wild in five games. This was an important moment for the franchise as it was their first ever playoff series win. Actually, it was their first ever playoff game win too as the franchise had been swept in the other two times they made the playoffs.

It was then onto the Nashville Predators which was nail-biting series from the start. This series saw neither team win two games in a row as they traded wins all the way from game one to game seven. The Jets were able to pull it out after a poor performance from Rinne in game seven where he got pulled after allowing two bad goals in the first period.

Finally, it was the Golden Knights and the Jets facing off for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The series began well with the Jets coming out on top in game one. It all went downhill from there as the Golden Knights rattled off four straight victories with the Jets mustering only six goals in those four games. Marc-Andre Fleury stood on his head all series and the Jets were sent home with a bad taste in their mouth.

Although it didn’t end like the Jets wanted it was still a fantastic run and was the first major step in becoming a perennial cup contender. Not to mention the absolutely great parties that were going on during the playoffs including the return of the beloved whiteout! This truly produced a special time in Jets history and will always be remembered as the year the Jets became a serious contender.

Off-season Performance

Additions:

  • Brossoit

Subtractions:

  • Toby Enstrom
  • Joel Armia
  • Steve Mason
  • Shawn Matthias
  • Matt Hendricks
  • Michael Hutchinson
  • Paul Stastny

At first glance, this list of additions and subtractions is not very encouraging. However, a closer look reveals that most of the subtractions are not important pieces to the Jets future. Enstrom has struggled to stay healthy in the past couple of season, and Matthias and Hendricks are unable to keep up anymore. Hutchinson never quite got an opportunity with the Jets after playing great for the Moose last season.

Stastny was brought in a as rental but with the impending cap situation the Jets were unable to free enough space to compete with the other teams. Lastly, Mason and Armia were traded away as a salary dump in hopes that it would make enough space for Stastny to come back. Alas, it didn’t quite work out, but given the poor performance by Mason, it shouldn’t be an issue to replace him.

The one addition the Jets did make was a minor one. The Jets are going to be promoting entirely from within with the likes of Petan, Vesalainen, Roslovic, and Lemieux all looking to make the squad out of training camp. However, after losing both Hutchinson and Mason during the off-season they needed to bring in at least one goalie for the backup position. This meant Laurent Brossoit was signed to a one year deal. Brossoit has had a few rough seasons but might turn into a capable backup, especially with Hellebuyck commanding most of the starts going forward.

This signing also creates some internal competition as Eric Comrie will be looking to push his way into the backup role. This will be an interesting battle to watch as training camp progresses.

The off-season wasn’t fantastic by Cheveldayoff but it didn’t need to be considering the state of the team. They are in a position to keep promoting more young players to save on cap space instead of signing big name free agents.

The big news in the off-season was the re-signing of current players. Hellebuyck and Wheeler both signed long-term deals and there were plenty of others who were signed to shorter deals as well. Lastly, Cheveldayoff couldn’t get a deal done with Trouba as an arbitrator had to settle the deal which resulted in a one year deal. Trouba now has two years left before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020.

2018-19 Forecast

This year the Jets should be at least as good as they were last season. They only lost depth players and all of their aspiring young stars are one year more mature. Look for Winnipeg to be an offensive juggernaut once again with Laine, Connor, Scheifele, and Ehlers looking to improve on last season’s totals. Even if Hellebuyck cools down a bit, the Jets should firmly be near the top of the division and could challenge for the President’s Trophy by year end.

Predicted Finish: First in Central Division


Previously in the series

Chicago Blackhawks

Dallas Stars

St. Louis Blues

Colorado Avalanche

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators