The Jets battled their way through an utterly unremarkable 2021-22 campaign that saw them finish sixth in the Central Division (and 11th in the Western Conference) with a 39-32-11 record and 89 points.
Despite scoring their fair share of goals, the Jets really struggled defensively on the puck and did little to support Connor Hellebuyck between the posts. The only two Central teams to allow more goals last year were Chicago and Arizona. Yeah.
Despite being peppered with shots and posting an inflated 2.97 goals-against average, Hellebuyck still managed to keep his save percentage at .910 – not amazing, but also far from it. horrible. The 29-year-old goaltender should still have plenty of good hockey ahead of him, although it remains to be seen how much longer he will be in Winnipeg.
The 2021-22 season also happened to be the final year of Blake Wheeler’s tenure as Jets captain. The 36-year-old forward was stripped of the ‘C’ earlier this month after six seasons wearing the badge. But the captaincy change was just about the most notable on-ice change the Jets have made this offseason. Otherwise, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff opted to relaunch it with largely the same group.
Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are two very talented forwards who struggled to hold their end of the bargain in the defensive zone last season. With Rick Bowness, whose teams have notoriously been very stingy, now behind the bench in Winnipeg, some of the Jets’ best offensive stars could begin to develop an awareness in their own zone – and, after last year, the team has badly need them for .
MAJOR ADDITIONS AND DEPARTURES
Sam Gagner, F
David Rittich, G.
Kyle Capobianco, D
Kevin Stenlund, F
Paul Stastny, F (RCA)
Eric Comrie, G (BUF)
Yevgeny Svechnikov, F (SJ)
Zach Sanford, F (NSH)
Nathan Beaulieu, D (ANA)
The Jets have a ton of talented offensive players, even with veteran utility center Paul Stastny leaving for the Carolina Hurricanes this summer. Kyle Connor is a 50-goal threat, Nikolaj Ehlers is an outstanding two-way winger, Pierre-Luc Dubois is a quality top-six center, and Wheeler and Scheifele remain dangerous players inside the blue line. of their opponents.
Notwithstanding concerns over the defensive contributions of their star performers, the Jets also have to worry a bit about what the future holds for some of their best forwards. Connor is locked in at a reasonable amount for the next four years and Ehlers is signed for three years, but Dubois reportedly intends to test unrestricted free agency in 2024 and signed a one-year contract reflecting that belief this summer. . Although he doesn’t have the same offensive potential as Patrik Laine, Dubois is a quality center that would be coveted by almost any team in the league.
Like Dubois, Scheifele and Wheeler are both set to become unrestricted free agents in two seasons. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Wheeler walk, but the Jets seem to be at a crossroads with Scheifele. The 29-year-old center has taken big steps back in his own end and will be under a ton of pressure to bring the Jets back to relevance in 2022-23. If he can meet that challenge, he might be able to sign a contract extension that would allow him to retire as a Jet. Otherwise… he could be at the door.
The Jets have struggled to find a defensive cornerstone since the abrupt departure of Dustin Byfuglien in 2019. Even though Josh Morrissey had a great rebounding year in 2021-22, the Jets have remained a largely incomplete team at fullback. last season and enter this upcoming season after making minimal changes to this group.
Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon are expected to form the Jets’ top-four group on defense in 2022-23, with Dylan DeMelo on the bubble and Ville Heinola pushing to enter that conversation. There’s no No. 1 guy out there, but maybe Bowness can help one of those players become a capable facsimile. Still, the fact remains that Pionk is the only guy in this group to ever go over 40 points, and he did it once (with 45 in 2019-20).
The Jets haven’t spent a first-round pick on a defenseman since winning Heinola with the 20th selection in 2019. There’s not exactly someone knocking on the door to make an impression in Winnipeg . Cheveldayoff’s best bet to improve his defense might be to move Dubois for an upgrade, especially if this situation becomes untenable.
Connor Hellebuyck is an extremely talented goaltender with a Vezina Trophy victory under his belt. As mentioned, he remained respectable even as the Jets struggled to find their footing in 2021-22. He is capable of fixing many holes behind an imperfect defensive group. If the Jets are able to fix some of the glaring flaws in their two-way play this year, Hellebuyck could turn them from mediocre to a legitimate contender for a round or two in the Western Conference.
Still, like many Jets players, Hellebuyck’s long-term future is in question. He’s 29 and has just two seasons left on his current contract, which pays him $6.167 million (on average) per year. By 2024, how many of the Jets’ current top six forwards will still be with the team? Will Cheveldayoff still be there? It’s entirely possible the Jets are about to embark on a retooling or a rebuild just when Hellebuyck needs a new deal. If so, it might be in the team’s best interest to consider moving him for transport a little before.
Beyond Hellebuyck, the Jets don’t have much. David Rittich has a plot to prove after disappointing stops in Toronto and Nashville, while Mikhail Berdin and Arvid Holm don’t really look like ‘custodian of the future’ candidates at this point. If Hellebuyck ends up moving on, the Jets will have to travel the hockey world to find a worthy successor.
We’ve already talked a lot about the new Winnipeg Jets head coach in this preview, and now he’s got a whole section all to himself. What’s old is new again for Rick Bowness, who returns to Winnipeg to replace interim head coach Dave Lowry after beginning his NHL coaching career with the club’s original iteration in 1984.
Bowness, 67, has been around the neighborhood and then some in the NHL, taking jobs with the Jets, Boston Bruins, Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders, Phoenix Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Tampa Bay Lightning and (more recently) Dallas Stars. He reached the Stanley Cup Final as the Stars head coach in 2020.
Bowness was successful in Dallas as a mid-season backup for Jim Montgomery in 2019-20, helping defensemen Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg to new playoff levels (and also benefiting from otherworldly performances from Joe Pavelski and Anton Khudobin along the way). He wouldn’t have been the Jets’ first pick this summer — they really wanted Barry Trotz — but he’ll have to deal with it as the Jets seek a quick rebound in 2022-23.
It’s time for Cole Perfetti to shine in Winnipeg. The 20-year-old forward has spent the better part of the past two seasons burning down the American Hockey League as a member of the Manitoba Moose. He got his first taste of NHL action in 2021-22, scoring two goals and seven points in 18 games.
Now Perfetti is a strong candidate to start the season with the Jets. The 2020 No. 10 pick could quickly make it easier for Cheveldayoff to explore trade options for Dubois. It is this promising.
The Jets don’t have many other players knocking on the door besides Perfetti, but chances are we’ll see a lot more Heinola in Winnipeg this year. The 5’11 » southpaw has enjoyed small cups of coffee in the NHL since being selected by the Jets in 2019, but there’s a clear opening down the left side with Logan Stanley doing little to stand out (beyond 6’7″) in his two seasons with the big club. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Heinola become a full-time Jet by Christmas.
1. Can Adam Lowry grow in his contract? The 29-year-old center is paid $3.25 million for the next four seasons, but is coming off a year where he scored just 21 points in 79 games. There’s something to be said for having defensive awareness and providing intangibles, but it would do a lot for the Jets’ playoff hopefuls if Lowry managed to cross the 30-point plateau for the first time in his career.
2. What role will Sam Gagner fill? We’ve seen Gagner become a versatile player over his past few seasons, going from a pure power-play specialist in Columbus to more of a tight center in Detroit. He was also able to deliver a healthy dose of attack in several of his stops along the way. Can he come close to replicating Stastny’s impact in Winnipeg?
3. Can Nikolaj Ehlers go from star to superstar? Ehlers is excellent in most facets of the game. His raw offensive output hasn’t been as impressive due to pandemic-shortened seasons, but he’s a strong candidate to set several new career highs this year. Ehlers scored 64 points in 2016-17 but hasn’t matched that mark since. What are the chances of him turning 80 this year?
The Central Division is really tough, but it’s safe to say the Jets are managing to improve a bit this year. Even five more wins would likely put them back in the playoffs.
At this point, it looks like the Jets will have to catch the Stars or the Predators to get back into the playoffs. Nashville made some improvements this summer, adding Nino Niederreiter and Ryan McDonagh; beyond the John Klingberg trade for Mason Marchment, the Stars have remained largely the same (and they still don’t have Jason Robertson under contract). Bowness might end up needing to move his old team to guide his new one into dancing.
Just for fun, we’ll say the Jets are getting there. But, as the probable wild card team, they will struggle to topple Colorado, Calgary, Edmonton or St. Louis to go much further.
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