The Winnipeg Jets were in the playoff race until the bitter end. Well, almost.
The Jets were up 2-1 on the Montreal Canadiens after two periods of play in their 48th and final game of the shortened 2013 season. But, with overtime wins by both the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers, the Jets were eliminated from postseason contention before the puck dropped in the third.
Winnipeg went on to lose 4-2 and finish ninth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 24-21-3, for a total of 51 points.
On one hand the Jets improved on their 11th-place finish from last season. However, they failed to capitalize on a great opportunity to qualify for the postseason.
Yes, Winnipeg had a tough travel schedule, but they also played in a division that featured the bottom three teams in the Eastern Conference. And yet, they managed just a 10-8 record against Southeast Division opponents.
A couple more wins against the Washington Capitals and the Jets would have taken the division title.
It’s tough for fans to see their team just miss out of the playoffs. But, if nothing else, at least the Jets were competitive throughout the season and appear poised to continue to improve in the coming years.
Perhaps that’s where fans can find a silver lining.
The top line, featuring captain Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, was dominant and accounted for about a third of the team’s offense. Defensive struggles were apparent at times, but a healthy Tobias Enstrom and the signing of prospect Jacob Trouba should make a significant difference in the future.
As for goaltending, Ondrej Pavelec rarely costs the Jets a chance to win, although he doesn’t steal games on a consistent basis either. Expect him to get better next season, especially as the defense improves.
Love him or hate him (and how could you hate him?), Claude Noel has done a good job given the players he had to work with. It’s up to Kevin Cheveldayoff and the rest of Winnipeg’s management and scouting team to make the proper additions and subtractions in the offseason, to push the Jets over the top next year.
That process begins Monday, April 29, at the NHL draft lottery, where Winnipeg has just a 0.8 percent chance of snagging the first overall pick.
With that in mind, NHL realignment will see the Jets in much more competitive division next season, but in a conference with only 14 teams. The Jets division features the Blackhawks, Avalanche, Stars, Wild, Predators and Blues.
Expectations will likely be high once again, as Winnipeg yearns for its first taste of NHL playoff hockey in nearly 20 years.