By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey
It’s no fun being on the outside looking in, looking up at a glass ceiling or banging on the door. All great euphemisms for being out of the top eight playoff spots in the conference. When you’re a fan it’s no fun to get that sympathetic look from other fans and hear “Well, they’ll be in the hunt, don’t worry”. Hearing that is like hearing someone runing their nails down a chalkboard, it makes you want to cringe. That’s why on Tuesday night, in their game against the Colorado Avalanche you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief from Jets nation after the Jets had finally smashed through the glass ceiling and into eighth spot.
The eighth spot has eluded the Jets for the better part of December, a month in which they had at least two failed opportunities to break down the door, the most notable being a loss against Washington in which a Capitals squad floating around the playoff barrier should have been vulnerable, and then an even tougher loss to the Islanders shortly after. Now that fate has finally shone on the Jets and sent them north of the playoff line, what will it take to see this success carry through to the end of the season? A lot of hard work and a pinch of luck.
Now there are far better sports statisticians than I, however looking at the current standings anything after fifth place is a total crap shoot, with teams from sixth to eleventh within four points of each other. That means that there can be almost zero room for error. The Jets will need to win the games they are supposed to win and steal a few from the elite teams if they want to stay in the playoff picture. There will be no room for nights off or losing skids, the competition is just too good. The good news is that if you look at the way the Jets have been playing, they seem deep when they shouldn’t be. What I mean by that is when you think of who the Jets should send to the All-Star game your choice is tough, why? Because the Jets have been scoring by committee, and seeing contributions not only from the big names but the plumbers as well. Already the injury bug has bitten the Jets and they have shown that there are capable call-ups from The Rock ready and willing to stand in. The goaltending of Pavelec has stood out, and Mason is another Jets component that seems able to slot in without missing a beat.
Now that I’ve spread around the pixie dust and sunshine, here’s what the Jets don’t have; a first line centre. It’s a problem that becomes apparent almost every night. They also don’t have a shutdown guy, which is something they could most definitely use on a blue line that’s full of gunners. These Jets will have to live without those luxuries and continue to grind and gun their wins just as they’ve been doing lately, but that’s ok, that’s new Winnipeg Jets hockey.
The competition may also help the Jets down the stretch. Does anyone really think the Panthers will stay amongst the top seeds in the east? They are overachieving now and may have to pay for it at the wrong time. I’m also going to stick my neck out and predict (mainly because it’s fun to do so) that Toronto will go on one of their legendary nose dives in the new year and provide the Jets with a bit of an opening to claw their way up. The upcoming two games the Jets have against the Leafs could help them along nicely. I’ll crawl out on another limb and say Ottawa will probably fall farther down into the cellar as the season progresses.
There are also however a few teams to watch. There is no way Washington is as bad as their record and when they get it together they'll probably be in the fight. Buffalo is another team that could see some new life in the New Year. All the components are there, it’s just getting them to find their identity. Tampa also has the weapons to stage a late comeback.
What does all this mean? It means that being in eighth spot at the end of December, although a psychological lift, really doesn’t mean anything. It means we have a decent chance, it means we’re not out of the race. As the Jets scrape and claw their way up, there'll be teams that will be pulling at them from their heels. There’s still lots of season left and lots of ground to either gain or give up. Will guts, guns and the seventh man be enough?
We’ll find out in April.