Expert NHL Handicapping: Six Reasons for Winnipeg Jets Success
Heading into the season the Winnipeg Jets felt like a team that was in the battle for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. They had upside but even more uncertainty. Well, we are now a quarter of the way through the NHL season, and there is good reason to be more optimistic than we were starting the season. They are sitting second in the Western Conference with 27 points through 20 games, and though they are six points behind the Blues they also have two games in hand. Nothing is guaranteed at this point, but they are certainly on the right track to be heading to the postseason - and to do so in good shape.
How are they doing it? And can they keep it up? Here are six factors to consider when pondering those questions:
Goaltending: The team grabbed Steve Mason in free agency and seemed determined to make the veteran the starter. They had young Connor Hellebuyck in town, but they didn't trust him. Well, it hasn't worked out according to plan - but in a very good way. Mason has been lousy. He has just one win in six appearances, and his 3.76 goals against average and .892 save percentage are a long way from acceptable. But it doesn't really matter, because Hellebuyck has stepped up and has been just excellent. His .925 save percentage is more than enough to move this team forward, and the team is playing very well behind him. Goaltending has long been an issue for this team, but at least at this point it doesn't have to be right now.
Top-end strength: Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are both nice players, but they are fortunate guys who have found a guy who they have such chemistry with that they are getting the absolute most out of their skills. The two have 25 points each through 20 games. The third part of their line has been young Kyle Connor of late, and he has fit in very well. On paper the top line was solid, but along with the Stamkos line in Tampa Bay and the Gaudreau line in Calgary this has been one of the top three in the league so far this season. Guys playing as well as this line is can overcome a whole lot of issues with a team, and there isn't a whole lot of concern that the production will fall off a cliff this season. The second line is very good as well, though if you want to nitpick, Patrik Laine, who has 10 goals, is not nearly as good 5-on-5 as he is when he has an advantage, and that needs to come along as he is now in his second year.
Coaching: I'm not a big Paul Maurice guy. The league has a bad habit of recycling old coaches, and Maurice definitely benefits from that. He has coached four teams for a total of 19 years before this one and has made the playoffs only five times. That's not much of a ratio considering more than half the league makes the playoffs every year. He obviously is connecting pretty well with this roster right now, but I would feel better if someone else was in charge.
Defense: The top pairing of Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey is solid - not elite, but solid, and quite good offensively. They are capable enough as a No. 1 pairing for a playoff team, though probably not for a real playoff challenger. Beyond that things aren't great. All four of their other regulars have disappointed along the way, and if the top line slows down the stress will be put on the backend more, and that's an issue.
Division: The Central Division is going through some changes. It has long been the personal playground of the Blackhawks, but if the playoffs started today they wouldn't even be in. St. Louis is very legitimate, Nashville proved themselves last year, and though Dallas has disappointed early on they have huge upside. Minnesota should be way better than their record, too. There is perhaps not quite as much strength in the division as there was in recent years, but the margin for error is still extremely small.
Betting performance: The team has gone "over" the total in 12 of their 20 games, so they have provided some pretty solid returns to totals bettors - in a way that feels like it could be profitable over the long term. They have also been decently profitable on the moneyline, though they only sit 11th in the league, so they aren't among the moneyline elite at this point.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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