The Winnipeg Jets were one of the hottest teams in the NHL from the time they hired Paul Maurice to be their new head coach up until around the NHL trade deadline, shortly after the Olympic break ended. They weren’t just winning games, but they were beating good teams.
The Jets won two huge games directly following the Olympic break. The first was against the Phoenix Coyotes, the second against the Nashville Predators. The Jets were still competitive, still winning games and beating good teams at this point.
It was the following game, the night before the trade deadline, against one of the NHL’s worst teams in the entire league, which is considered the turning point of the Jets season. The Jets lost to the New York Islanders on home ice in overtime, but were dominated the entire game, lucky to even come away with one point.
After the Islanders game, the Jets went on to lose seven of their next nine games. They were losing very winnable games to teams that, you can argue, are inferior to them. They were losing these games on home ice as well—a woe that has yet to be fixed.
And this is where the Jets currently stand. They have 10 games left on their schedule and are six points behind the Coyotes for the final wild-card spot.
To put it simply, even winning out would be a long shot for the Jets. They would need a miracle of all miracles, which realistically isn’t happening, especially with the powerhouse opponents remaining on their schedule.
The Jets will not be making the playoffs for yet another season.
So what could have been the cause of this disastrous stretch that ended all hopes of playoff hockey in the ‘Peg? Here are a few reasons which could have ultimately derailed the team.
This is a poor excuse. However, I’ve seen it thrown around so I’ll touch on it just a little.
The Jets were one of the hottest teams in the NHL up until shortly after the Olympic break. Maybe they were the victims of unfortunate timing? Or maybe they benefitted?
The reason I deem this excuse poor because they Jets certainly benefitted. Evander Kane was expected to miss another two weeks due to an injury, so the break ensured he’d not miss another game. The Jets also got Jim Slater back from injury.
And besides, the Jets won two games directly following the break against tough opponents.
Mark Scheifele Injury
This is one of the biggest reasons of all.
Sure, Mark Scheifele is just a rookie, but he was getting top-six minutes and making the most of them. After a very slow start, Scheifele came into a zone around the quarter mark of the season and found himself neck-and-neck with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the rookie scoring race.
Scheifele was injured during the Islanders game—the game which began the derail. The Jets started to lose a lot of games after the injury to Scheifele. Coincidence? I think not.
Not only was Scheifele the depth, but he was a primary contributor. The Jets couldn’t replace him. They didn't have anyone of his caliber that could fill in.
If anything, the Jets found out they have a true center in Scheifele—one that should carry this franchise for years to come. After all, he’s already proven to be irreplaceable.
Standing Pat at the Trade Deadline
This decision seems to be the third of three huge events, that happened almost consecutively, which derailed the Jets season. The Jets lost to the Islanders on March 4, lost Scheifele due to injury in the same game and then decided to stay pat at the trade deadline the following day.
The trade deadline is the time to make a crucial decision. Do you go for it or do you sell it? The Jets, for another straight season, decided to forego that decision by standing pat. It left many fans wondering why and wondering where the true direction of this team lies.
The Jets could have certainly used depth at center after the injury to Scheifele. At the same time, they could have used draft picks to continue their rebuild for pending unrestricted free agents like Olli Jokinen.
If you go for it and miss the playoffs, at least you can say you tried. If you sell and miss the playoffs, well that’s what was expected since you “sold." The worst is staying in between, because if you do so and miss the playoffs, you lose your UFAs for nothing.