It was a pleasantly surprising season for the Jets last year. It seemed like they were destined for another frustrating season - the only kind they knew since returning to Winnipeg. Really, the only kind that fans in Winnipeg have ever known. But then something strange happened - they started playing well and kept doing it. It wasn't flashy, and other like other surprising teams like Minnesota or Ottawa they didn't need freakish goaltending streaks to get it done. They just kept doing what they did, and it worked for them. It was the ultimate workman-like effort.
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The bad news last year is that the team had a habit of blowing leads. They led Anaheim in all four playoff games, for example, but couldn't close the deal each time. Part of the cause of those woes were that they found their way into the penalty box more than any other team. Both of those problems are, in different ways, a matter of discipline. That can be improved - it's a much better problem to have than a lack of offense or lousy goaltending.
Winnipeg Jets Offseason Moves
Michael Frolik heading to Calgary as a free agent is a loss - the biggest of the offseason. There is a good chance that his offensive impact won't be
missed, though, thanks to two new faces - one newer than the other. After a season in Atlanta and two in Winnipeg, Alexander Burmistrov headed back to his
native Russia to play in the KHL for two years. Now he's back for another try. Despite all he has been through, he's still only 23 years old, so there is
plenty of upside. The top two centers on the lineup are well established, but if Burmistrov can shine in the third-center role then the team could be very
well off. The other exciting new injection is rookie Nikolaj Ehlers, the ninth overall draft pick in 2014. He had 205 points over the last two years in
junior hockey, so he obviously has an offensive upside. He's scrawny, and that's a concern, but if he steps in and gets comfortable early then he has a
chance to be an elite rookie. Teams like Calgary and Ottawa recently have shown how much of a boost a strong rookie can be for a team.
Winnipeg Jets NHL Outlook
This isn't an elite team, but you have to like how they are built nonetheless. The top line is very solid, and the second line is good and has lots of room to improve. The rest of the offense is young or unproven, but there is plenty of potential. Defensively, they are very solid. Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers in particular are brilliant, and Dustin Byfuglien is very good when he focuses. Top to bottom it's a defensive corps that measures up well against most in the league. The goaltending is the best it has been in a long time for this franchise. Ondrej Pavelec still isn't my favorite keeper, but he was much better last year than he has been before and seems to have turned a corner with his game. In Michael Hutchinson the team has a very solid keeper - one that could easily be a starter here or elsewhere sometime. It's a good pairing. Add it all up and this is a pretty solid team. One built to be a playoff team - though not necessarily one to do a lot of damage when they get there.
So much in this league comes down to coaching. On that front Paul Maurice is a great fit. Sometimes a coach and his team mesh so well that the team achieves to the higher end of their range of potential. That is certainly the case here. The Jets have played better in the year and a half since Maurice took over than they had before by a wide margin. Now he has largely the roster he wants, and the team has the experience of making the playoffs to build on. This is a team moving in the right direction - albeit in a conference that is extremely tough to perform in given the depth.
Winnipeg Jets Schedule
This is a very odd way to start a season. The Jets open with four on the East Coast. The reward for surviving that is six straight at home. But then they head out again for eight of nine away from home -- two four-game stretches with a home game in the middle. Strange. Tough. That all ends by Nov. 16, and we'll know a whole lot more about this team then than we do now.
Winnipeg Jets NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Jets are +2800 to win the Stanley Cup. That puts them behind 14 teams, and that's same price as Calgary, Dallas, Detroit and Edmonton. They are the sixth choice to win the Western Conference at +1200 and also the sixth choice to win the very tough Central Division at +950.
2015-16 Winnipeg Jets Predictions
I like this team. The bottom of the West is going to be a dogfight this year - Calgary has improved and was in the playoffs last year, while the Kings, Stars and Oilers are among the non-playoff teams that want to change their fortunes. Good teams will be left out in the end. It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the Jets miss out, but it would be a much bigger surprise if they didn't play hard and fight right up until the end. They aren't a championship contender, but making the playoffs and winning a round is viable. They aren't a team that other teams will look forward to playing against.
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