NHL Preview 2011: The 5 Biggest Challenges Facing the Winnipeg Jets
Will the new Winnipeg Jets be able to make a Stanley Cup Playoff run in 2011-2012?
The rebirth of the Winnipeg Jets has been a dream come true for the fans in Manitoba. The excitement of having NHL hockey back in town is evident in how fast they sold out the MTS center for the season.
The fans will be there in 2011 regardless of what happens on the ice. Win or lose hockey is a passion in Manitoba and Jets fans will be loud and proud all season.
So, what about that winning thing?
Obviously, having the Jets make the playoffs would be a perfect end to the amazing script that has played out so far, but is it realistic?
Last season, the Atlanta Thrashers were in eighth place half way through the season and it looked like they might squeak into the Eastern Conference playoffs. They faded however, and ended 13 points out of a playoff spot.
Can they make up those 13 points this year? To do so they will have to over come some challenges.
Here are the five biggest challenges the Jets will have to conquer to make the playoffs in 2011-2012.
Make no mistake about it, the Jets are young. With only two players over the age of 30, and the majority under 25, the Winnipeg Jets are one of the youngest teams in the NHL.
Young teams are a bitter sweet mix of speed, excitement and mistakes.
Can they overcome their youth to make a playoff run?
Despite their youth they do have some leaders with playoff experience. Captain Andrew Ladd, only 25 years old himself, has been there before. As team captain and holder of two Stanley Cup rings already in his young career, he knows how tough playoff runs can be and can help guide his fellow pups.
Ladd’s former Blackhawks teammate Dustin Byfuglien, while perhaps not a natural leader, also has valuable playoff experience for the team to lean on.
The Jets also brought in former Vancouver Canuck grinder Tanner Glass. He won’t light up the scoreboard, but has been on a team that has made the playoffs and adds more experience.
Winnipeg will need to learn quickly from these more experienced players to stay afloat amidst mistakes caused by youth.
If they can, they might find themselves in the hunt come spring.
4. Lack of Scoring Depth
Last season in Atlanta, the Thrashers averaged 2.66 goals per game, which wasn’t the worst in the league as they still saw 19 teams ahead of them.
They do have some guys who can put the puck in the net; what they are lacking is depth. That depth is especially missing in their top six forwards.
Andrew Ladd led the Thrashers last year with 29 goals and 30 assists. The next two leading scorers were defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Entsrom.
While it is an asset to have two defenseman score in the 50-point range (the Jets do have a decent power play), it can become troublesome when they are two of your top three scorers.
The Jets will need to get some more consistent production out of their top six forwards. They made very few offseason moves to help here, so the increase will have to come from players already on the roster.
The most likely candidate to step up is Evander Kane. The young winger has a lot of talent and speed, and seems to be ready to take the next big step forward.
Kane will be the anchor of the Jets second line, most likely paired with Nik Antropov and young prospect Alexander Burmistrov.
Burmistrov could be a wild card for the Jets. At only 19 years old, he got his skates wet in the NHL last season after being a point-per-game player in the OHL.
If Burmistrov can step up the Jets could have a viable second line.
3. Lack of Defense
The Atlanta Thrashers last season were 29th in the league in goals allowed. In case you lost count, there are only 30 teams in the league.
When you are only scoring 2.66 goals a game allowing 3.20 a game is going to result in losses.
The Jets have a young and inexperienced blue line whose projected top six of Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart and Tobias Enstrom combined last year for minus-59.
Now, the plus/minus ratings can be a bit misleading as goals allowed are usually a team effort, but when the numbers are that skewed it means your guys got beat…a lot.
Like the rest of their roster the Jets have youth here that hopefully will get better. They will need a stouter defense if they expect to stay in the race this year.
More scoring will help, but they will need to play better in their own end and cut down on the huge amount of shots they gave up last year.
Goaltending goes hand in hand with defense for the Jets. Being second to last in goals allowed is also an indictment of your play in the net.
Last season the duties were split between Ondrej Pavelec (58 games) and veteran Chris Mason (33 games).
Mason, as the main backup had one of the worst years of his career posting a save percentage under 90 percent and allowing over three goals per game.
The hope for the Jets is that Pavelec can continue to develop into a No. 1 goaltender in 2011. His numbers were respectable last year with a save percentage of .914 and a GAA of 2.73. Both of those were big improvements over his rookie year and show signs of hope for the Jets.
Pavelec faced just under 30 shots per game, which is way too high, and as mentioned in the previous slide, the Jets can help him and cut down those chances.
If they do, they appear to have goaltending that could take them to the playoffs.
The Atlanta Thrashers never faced the pressure that the Winnipeg Jets will.
As Thrashers, these players were used to half-empty buildings at home, and a lackluster media. Those days are gone.
The fans in Winnipeg are pumped up for the NHL return and have sold out the building for the season. The Jets players will have to adjust to playing in a loud and fired up building, huge media throngs and being recognized in the streets.
Andrew Ladd won’t be able to make a midnight run to Tim Horton’s without being seen anymore. It will be front page news in Winnipeg.
How will the Jets adjust to this?
Hopefully it will help fuel them. Home games in Atlanta lacked the energy of Winnipeg, and the MTS Center should become one of the best home-ice advantages in the league.
And that just may be enough to push the Jets into the playoffs in 2011.