It's been some time since the NHL had to relocate a franchise, but there were some close calls. Bankrupt teams in Buffalo and Pittsburgh were rescued by owners with deep pockets, while Phoenix is still in the hands of the NHL. In fact, the Coyotes have been in so much trouble for the last couple of years, that many believed they would one day be headed to the land from whence they came.
Winnipeg. Home to the Canadian Mint and namesake of Winnie the Pooh. They've been dying for a hockey team since our very own Red Wings knocked the Jets (1979) out of the first round of the 1996 playoffs. In May of 2011, the fans got their wish when True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd bought the Atlanta Thrashers and moved them north of the border.
In all the hoopla surrounding the Jets' return to Winnipeg, people tend to forget that the Thrashers were not a very good team last year. Will the Jets be able to add to the excitement of being back in Winnipeg by winning? Follow the jump as we analyze the Winnipeg Jets.Last season, the Thrashers were the surprise team of the first half. They raced out to a lead in the Southeast Division, with future Norris Trophy Winner and nautical enthusiast Dustin Byfuglien leading the way. Unfortunately for the fans in Atlanta, the Thrashers realized that they didn't have a lot of talent on the roster, and they gave way to Washington and Tampa as they made second half charges to the top of the division. To give a sense of how bad their second half went, the Devils finished a point ahead of them. Any offseason moves made by the brand-new coaching staff and management team were overshadowed by the team's new address.
Arrivals: Eric Fehr, Derek Meech, Tanner Glass, Randy Jones
Departures: Anthony Stewart, Eric Boulton, Radek Dvorak
Pertinent Stats in 2010-11
Points: 80 (25th NHL, 12th East)
Goals For: 218 (20th NHL)
Goals Against: 269 (28th NHL)
Power Play: 18.3% (12th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 77.5% (27th NHL)
Offense: The Jets aren't going to light too many teams up (despite them beating the Wings last year 5-1 in their only meeting), but there is some legitimate offensive talent on the team. Andrew Ladd is their captain and undisputed leader, but he's never been much more than a 2nd-line forward in terms of scoring. He led the team in scoring last year with 59 points, which is not going to be good enough for a team trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time in 4 years.
Up front, a few youngsters are going to be expected to take steps forward in their offensive development. Evander Kane has always been a tough character, but in 2 years he has yet to show the scoring touch that made him the number 4 overall pick in 2009. He's got size and skill, and should be able to hit the 25 goal mark this year. A year after taking Kane, the Jets picked Alexander Burmistov 8th overall, who is a smaller skill forward who has hands that are ridiculous. Both players are still very young and have a lot of upside.
The addition of Fehr gives the Jets a big winger who has a nose for the net. He's never scored more than 21 goals or 40 points, but the Jets are counting on him to be a fixture in their top-6.
One area the Jets have strength is points from the blueline. For all the jokes we make about Byfuglien, he finished second on the team with 20 goals and 53 points last year, and was in the running for the Norris halfway through the season. On the other side is Tobias Enstrom, a smooth-skating puck mover who put up 51 points in 72 games. Those 2 give the Jets a solid 1-2 punch on the back end that few teams can boast.
Defense: Despite the offensive prowess of players like Byfuglien and Enstrom, the Jets their defensive capabilities are not going to lead a team. Byfuglien is a converted-defenseman-forward-defenseman-boat pilot who is much more comfortable in the other team's end than his own. Enstrom is a small player who can muscled around by bigger forwards.
However, the Jets have a few solid defenders on the roster. Johnny Oduya can hold his own in the Jets' zone, although is not a big player. Mark Stuart is a stay-at-home defenseman who teams up with Enstrom to offset his lack of offensive abilities.
The player that many are watching this season is Zach Bogosian, the former #3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. Bogosian, at 6'3" and 205 lbs, was expected to be the Jets' defenseman of the future, but in two and a half seasons has yet to develop into the anchor the team was hoping he'd be when he was drafted. This year it is hoped that he will take a big step forward in his development and deliver good offensive numbers while being an asset defensively.
Goaltending: Last year was supposed to be the one where Ondrej Pavelec took the starting job and made it his. However, he collapsed in the Thrashers' first game last year, so he had to catch up and get back in shape after missing time early. He bounced back from that incident to post decent numbers, but his consistency was an issue. Overall, he finished the season with a 2.74 GAA and .914 SV%, both good stats for a team that lacked any defensive consistency over the course of the season.
Player to Watch: I came very close to going with Derek Meech in this space, but then the drugs wore off and I realized that I'll be paying close attention to Evander Kane. He's a star-in-the-making, but he hasn't blossomed into the top-flight scorer that many think he can be. At 20, he's still got growing to do, but with everyone on the team a year older, I think this year he establishes himself as one of the best young forwards in the league. Plus, he'll always have a special place in my heart for this.
Player With Something To Prove: After a blistering start to the season last year, Dustin Byfuglien cooled off considerably and ended out of the top-3 for Norris Trophy voting. He had that pesky boating while intoxicated thing this summer, and there were reports that he was less than in shape heading into training camp. Will any of that have an effect on him this season? Hard to say, but he will be expected to be "the guy" on the Jets' defense this season while once again kicking in 50 points.
The Skinny: The return to Winnipeg will mean that all the fans are ecstatic to have an NHL team again, but witnessing playoff hockey is not going to happen this year. The team is young and developing, but in a conference where non-playoff teams improved and the top teams stayed level, the Jets are still a year or two away from getting back to postseason play. But the people of Winnipeg won't care, and they'll pack the house every single night to cheer on their new heroes.