Yes reader I am writing this column in red leather pants to pay tribute to Mike Reno. I’m also starting the long countdown until Sunday just like every other fan. I have written my fair share of sentimental, look back pieces, so as the big day draws near I find myself more looking to the future as opposed to looking back. I can’t wait to see how Jets 2.0 play against other teams in the NHL, with standings and paycheques on the line.
The pre-season as we all know is as a bit of sham. The NHL owners get to charge for a few more games and the coaches get to have a “live fire” training camp to weed out the final roster spots. One clubs “A-Team” will meet another clubs “B-team” and or a mixture of both and the fans a lot of the time end up seeing some subpar hockey. It makes it extremely hard to judge just how well the Jets will stack up as we move into the regular season. We have analyzed the team to death, and the final roster spots are coming into focus, so now is the time when the anticipation builds. It’s also time to get out on a limb and try to cobble together a preview.
Now the Sabremetrics bean counters will tell you that the Jets are going to stink this year, and the so called professional bloggers at Puck Daddy are tripping over themselves to declare that the Jets will end up near the bottom of the league. They trot out statistics from last year and whale: “but where will the scoring come from?”, oh woe be to the poor Winnipeg Jets fans. Then they prattle on about how Winnipeg fans will watch any form of hockey put in front of them as long as it has an NHL crest on it and so they say, it’s all good. Not so fast. There are intangibles at work here that cannot be quantified.
The scoring will come, and I’ll tell you why; ownership. That’s right; the ownership situation will have a direct and tangible effect on this hockey team. And I’m not just talking stability; I’m also talking about the small moves that were made in the off season to add character guys to this team. What this team needs most is for its young players, most notably Kane, Burmistov, Little and hopefully Scheifele to come into their own. In order to do that they need support, that guys like Glass, Fehr, and Wellwood can provide. These signings where a direct result of a smart management crew, which can and will make a difference on the ice. When everything is said and done the Jets can roll two effective scoring lines, and that will be enough. Why will that be enough? Defense.
The defensive core will be the hallmark of this new club in the years until strategic drafting can bring us more front line talent. Byfuglien, Bogosian, and Enstrom will all be expected to contribute offensively as well as pound opposing forwards into submission. Depth in D on the farm will also help when the injury bug comes around. Postma in particular is on his way to becoming NHL ready and a season with the Caps will put him in contention for a spot with the big club next year. I expect this group to be a dynamic defence that will jump up into the play more times than not. Of course this also depends on the systems that coach Noel employs throughout the season.
Pavalec will gain consistency this year and I believe will become a top tier goal tender. Mason is the perfect backup and will probably be playing about 15 games although some are saying more. I think Pavalec at times will have to carry this team through the doldrums if they are to have a chance at the post season, but I think he’s capable. Again the goalies will be leaned upon, and they will need to come through.
The Seventh Man
The fans are an important factor and don’t let anyone tell you different. Sure these guys are pros and they should perform in any environment, but don’t think for one second that when the building is rockin that an extra bit of adrenalin isn’t pumped through those veins. The crowd is a legal performance enhancing drug and the Jets will have an ample supply. If I were a Sabremetrics bean counter I would add a minimum of ten points just from fan support.
This is what may potentially cancel out at least some of the advantage gained from an insane home crowd. The Jets travel sched will be in a word Brutal. Technically they are in the Southeast division and will have to travel like it. It means long north south trips, but hopefully only across one time zone.
There is no doubt about it the Jets are in tough this year. The NHL is a man’s league and guys are playing for BIG paycheques. With that said, I think our group has the right mix of journeymen and young talent to be in the mix come stretch time.
Will they tank? I doubt it. Will they make the playoffs? They have a shot. Will they win the cup? Everyone has a chance to win the cup, that’s why they play the games.