2014 Winnipeg Jets Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 9/23/2014
Patience is beginning to wear thin in Winnipeg. Don’t get me wrong — these fans love their team like no other fan base, and that isn’t going to change. A team that returned to town with such high hopes, though, has failed to gain any real traction in their time in the NHL’s coldest city. They are the same underwhelmingly average team that they were when they arrived, free agents have been very difficult to attract, and young prospects have either disappointed, struggled with injuries, or are slow to develop. Fans know that things are not going to turn around immediately, and they don’t expect a championship now. However, some real progress would certainly make things easier for the team going forward.
It’s not that there was a complete lack of progress last year. In fact, it’s as if they played two separate seasons. Claude Noel was the coach until Jan. 12, and the team was lousy. They were 19-23-5, and it was clear that they had tuned out their coach. Then Paul Maurice took over, and they were a different team. They finished off 18-12-5 and showed what they could be capable of. Maurice had been hired on an interim basis, but to the surprise of no one he was given the permanent gig and a four-year contract after the season. Can Maurice carry momentum forward into a full year with the squad, or was the novelty of a new coach the reason for the sharper play from the team?
Winnipeg Jets Offseason Moves
The team stood pat more than almost any team in the league — an odd choice for a team that wound up seventh in their division. The most noteworthy move stands out as a potential mistake. Ondrej Pavelec has just not been good enough as a starting goalie in WInnipeg, and Al Montoya was better as the backup last year. I would have liked to have seen Montoya moved into the starting role, but instead he was allowed to leave for Florida as a free agent. Pavelec has been given the No. 1 gig, and Michael Hutchinson from the AHL will likely move up to be the backup. Pavelec just isn’t good enough to lead a contender in my eyes, and Hutchinson is unproven and not among the hottest goalie prospects out there — though he did have a strong season last year split among three leagues, including a brief stint in the NHL, and could easily supplant Pavelec if he keeps moving forward.
The only other move of significance was a shift in third-line centers — Olli Jokinen is out, and Mathieu Perreault, who provides the same production and is a decade younger, is in. Add it all up, and if you weren’t excited about this team last year then you aren’t going to be thrilled this year.
First-round draft choice Nikolaj Ehlers, a Danish winger who played his junior in Halifax, has a chance to make this team if he has a strong preseason. Last year’s top pick, defenseman Josh Morrissey, will also be given a look, but young defensemen are scary, and the team would probably prefer if they didn’t need to bring him along yet.
Winnipeg Jets NHL Outlook
When a team doesn’t change their lineup they are obviously counting on a lot of progress from the players they have. Lucky for them, there is a lot of upside on the roster, and Maurice showed that he can realize some of that potential in his time with the team last year. Evander Kane has been a disappointment and the subject of endless trade rumors, but his offensive potential is huge, and even though it seems like he has been around forever he’s still only 23. Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom are other players who can be much better than they were last year and must return to form. Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba are the young stars of this team, and they need to take a step forward as they advance in their young careers.
If all or most of those players can take a big step forward and the core of Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and others can play at a high level still then this team could really be a factor — at least a factor in the playoff hunt. If there isn’t a team-wide step forward, though, then the team likely just isn’t good enough to compete.
Winnipeg Jets Schedule
The schedule makers did the Jets no favors out of the gate — they play three road games in four days, with visits to Arizona, San Jose and the Kings. A team could play pretty well and still lose all three of those games. That is certainly not what this team needs out of the gate. Luckily, if they were to win a couple of those games and gain some confidence then they could build on it right away with manageable home games against Nashville, Calgary and Carolina.
Winnipeg Jets NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
Oddsmakers are not optimistic about this team — at 66/1 to win the Stanley Cup their odds are better than just four squads. At 33/1 to win the Western Conference they are tied with Phoenix as the 12th choice. They are tied with Nashville at 12/1 to win the Central Division — last in what shapes up as an absolutely brutal division.
2014-15 Winnipeg Jets Predictions
I like a lot of the young talent here, and they are in good hands with Maurice. Ultimately, though, there are two issues I can’t overcome. The goaltending just isn’t good enough to shine unless Hutchinson can really surprise. More significantly, playing in a division with mega-powers Chicago and St. Louis; and serious forces in Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota; I just don’t see how there is room for them to win a lot of games and make the playoffs. They will be a tough team to play against but ultimately will fall short of the postseason yet again.
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