Hello valued followers.
That glorious time is almost upon us. It’s September, and there’s going to be hockey. Are you excited? I’m pretty excited. Maybe I shouldn’t be, but there’s a lot for Jets fans to be hopeful for. Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Nic Petan, Marko Dano, and Josh Morrissey are all in line to compete for roster spots. The emergence of Connor Hellebuyck in-net should solve one of Winnipeg’s long-standing grievances. Even Mark Stuart, “stalwart” defender that he is, may have to compete for a chance to play each and every night. So why, then, do I have this lingering sense of apprehension?
The Subban-for-Weber Trade
If you’re an NHL fan, you’ll remember where you were on June 29th. I was sitting in a staff meeting at a summer camp when my phone buzzed with TSN updates. Usually, I ignore them. This time, however, I couldn’t help gasping aloud at the words rendered on my tiny phone screen. In the span of less than 30 minutes, two blockbuster trades and a massive contract extension occurred. All three were landscape-altering developments, but only one was directly relevant to the Jets.
Photo Credit: Getty Images.
In a genius move, GM David Poile swapped aging defenseman Shea Weber for the Canadiens wunderkind, P.K. Subban. This trade completely altered the fabric of the Nashville blueline and made the Preds defense corps the best in the league. To say Nashville has defensive depth would be the greatest understatement of the year. A blueline unit with Subban, Josi, Ekholm, and Weber (the good one) is borderline-cheating. Pekka Rinne isn’t a very good goalie, but if scoring chances aren’t getting close to the net, who cares? The rest of the NHL should be prepared for a Preds teeth baring lethal fangs.
The Patrick Roy Resignation
The trend of the Central Division improving continued with the “resignation” of the Colorado Avalanche’s head coach, Patrick Roy. The Avalanche have a veritable plethora of young talent that was buried by Roy’s poor coaching. Replacing the former goalie with anyone else is a marked improvement for the Avs. This should frighten the entire Central Division, because Colorado could become a dominant force under the direction of a competent leader.
Roy had this to say about his resignation:
“I have thought long and hard over the course of the summer about how I might improve this team to give it the depth it needs and bring it to a higher level. To achieve this, the vision of the coach and VP-Hockey Operations needs to be perfectly aligned with that of the organization. He must also have a say in the decisions that impact the team’s performance. These conditions are not currently met.”
There’s definitely bad blood there, but Roy needed to go. He was a terrible coach and wasted several prime seasons from his best players. The Avs should be happy to acquire Jared Bednar, who just coached the Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland Monsters) to a Calder Cup title.
Winnipeg’s Roster Decisions
A lot of other changes in the Central Division will impact the Jets, but Winnipeg is largely responsible for its own destiny. The Jets roster hasn’t been announced yet, but I have a few easy recommendations:
- Mark Stuart and Brian Strait cannot be allowed ice-time.
- Hellebuyck must be the starter, with Hutchinson backing him up.
- Thorburn and Peluso need to be with the Moose to make way for the youth.
- Stop press-boxing Postma. He’s bloody good.
- Keep Ehlers-Scheifele-Wheeler together…
- …unless Laine starts lighting it up. Make him the top-LW if need be.
Who goes on what line is less important to me. All I do know is that those six rules need to be considered if Winnipeg is to have a shot at the playoffs. The Central Division is the most competitive in hockey for a reason, and the Jets need to maximize their chances of success. If Paul Maurice and co. follow a few of these recommendations, the Jets should have a solid chance at a Wild Card spot. All you need to do is get in to the playoffs. It’s a new season from then on.
Harrison’s Bold Predictions
As is the custom for this time of year, I’ve got a few bold predictions for the Jets. Brace yourselves, because the hot takes are coming.
Mark Scheifele scores 30 goals on the way to a 70-point season.
I can already hear Ryan (@arby_18) chortling in the background, but hear me out. No Jets forward showed as much growth as Mark Scheifele did. He dominated most opposing top-lines and actively made his linemates better. His gifted release and playmaking helped him earn 61 points last season. Scheifele was hand-picked to play alongside Connor McDavid on Team North America for a reason. He’s developing into an exceptional #1 center, and it’s time he was recognized for his talent.
Connor Hellebuyck competes for a Vezina trophy.
I tend to hate player awards because they rely on voting. Inherently, the process is incredibly political. I love Braden Holtby, but he was not the best goalie last season. Brian Elliott and a number of other netminders had strong cases for the Vezina, but Holtby was ultimately selected for his stellar season. All that said, Vezina voting does use a body of evidence. Whether the evidence is fair or not is another question, but I think Connor Hellebuyck could make a run for the trophy.
Photo Credit: Lowell Sun.
Of Hellebuyck’s peers on Team North America, he’s easily the most technically-polished goalie. Many have described his style as boring, but the best term would be “efficient”. Hellebucyk constantly remains square to the shot, rarely cheats on angles in a manner that would badly expose him, and carefully measures every stop to control rebounds. He represents a new age of goal-tending, and if the Jets penalty kill isn’t atrocious this season, might make a genuine case for the Vezina.
Winnipeg finishes third in the Central Division.
The Central Division is nearly impossible to predict, but I’m calling a third-place Jets finish all the same. Dallas and Nashville should be expected to lead the division, but third place and beyond is a lot harder to guess. I have a feeling Chicago will see regression as their star players continue to age. St. Louis will also struggle without Elliott in-goal. The Blues defense was a bit of a mess last year, and Elliott disguised a lot of the back-end struggles. The Wild and Avs are wild cards under their new coaches, but I doubt either team will seriously contend for a playoff spot just yet.
That leaves Winnipeg. If everything breaks right for the Jets, I have a feeling they could end up in the third Central Division spot. It’s a long shot, but Winnipeg’s primary weakness has been goal-tending. We saw Pavelec post a career year in 2014-2015, which resulted in a playoff appearance. His post-season meltdown proved just how important Hellebuyck’s greatness will be in pushing the Jets to third place.
And with that, I must bid you adieu. Thanks for reading! Let me know what your scorching takes for the season are below.