It seems that every site and major early pre-season ranking of the Winnipeg Jets seems to put them into the bottom 5 teams or so. I mean to be fair, it is safe to say based on the history that the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise has not been the true embodiment of success. That being said, I think many Jets fans and hockey alumni alike would agree that the transition into the MTS centre in Winnipeg has provided a welcome home for fans to be amongst the most rowdy in the entire NHL. The transition has been almost all gold so far, from having a relatively competitive hockey team for years that has been over the .500 clip. To the most obvious success of the Winnipeg Jets which is the fact that is has become the prime ticket in town and it seems that people cannot find ways to soak up enough new Winnipeg Jets news along with new Jersey’s and knickknacks. You can’t help walk down the streets and feel a sense of pride in Winnipeg due to the fact that our team is back and we are here to stay.
The only problem seems to be that this Winnipeg Jets 2.0 core group seems to get no respect. To that notion I can see the logic due to the team not being in the playoffs as a group yet, but when you look at their top 2 lines and the grinders that they have at the bottom I for one really believe this Jets team may have what it takes and a few bumps and bruises along the way are necessary. Around Winnipeg and on the internet we see that one of the real problems in Winnipeg has always been that they do not have a quality top-line that can compete with the best top-lines of the best teams in the league like that of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Chicago Blackhawks. To this extent, I must agree. But when one analyses the numbers the Jets top forward line pairing of Little, Wheeler and Ladd actually finished in the top few pairings in the lead. Sure, other teams may be able to mix their top pairings with other lines a bit, but these 3 guys playing together tallied 67 points in the strike-shortened season. 26 more then the top line of the Blackhawks that consists of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa while only one less then the Pittsburgh Penguins top-line of Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz and a whopping 25 more points then the Edmonton Oilers pairing of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins which was just ranked 4th by the ESPN forward group rankings for the 2013 upcoming season.
A lot of writers and insiders seem to think that the Jets team isn’t A, talented enough and B, deep enough. Well every year that the Edmonton Oilers don’t live up to the hyped potential I see a Winnipeg Jets crew that is flying way above their own seemed projections. They have a solid number 1 goalie in Ondrej Pavalec who needs more consistency in his game, when he’s on he’s lights out, but it seems sometimes rain drops can turn into thunderstorms pretty quickly and perhaps that is just a phase of the young franchise net-minder. They have a capable number 1 line, and they have some serious talent at the defensive end with potential star Zach Bogosian recently signing a long-term deal, while top defensemen Tobias Enstrom is still locked in. Then we have one of the most dominant and physical presences in the game in Dustin Byfuglien rounding out the talent to go along with a few solid bruisers in the bottom lines.
I know we all understand that this is Winnipeg and it is not free-agent heaven, but those who come here will soon find out how big a deal it is here and how it may be a small market in nature, but not in coverage. That being said I have really liked GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s moves in free agency. He wants to build the team from within, which is a very long-term affective strategy, just ask another small city in Green Bay that also happens to have a community-owned team in the Packers that builds within and pluck up overseen undrafted free agents that become superstars. But aside from building long-term, Chevy has drafted a potential future star in Mark Scheifele and he has added to the forward depth with acquiring Devin Setoguchi from Minnesota where he was nearly a point-per night player while also Stanley Cup Winner Michael Frolik from Chicago to man our third-line. Which really shouldn’t be scoffed at considering how well he played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The guy was a +5 last year and he scored 10 points in 25 post-season games and should really add some experience and grit to the third line.
In review, that Jets really do have some serious talent and now it comes down to how well they mesh. They are moving to the much more competitive Central Division alongside some powerhouses, but I for one think the jump in competition could also bring a jump in their own game along with having a new rivalry potentially being born with the Minnesota Wild. I know this team may not be flashy, a large market or have premier names. But they do have names that have the ability to become house-hold names while all doing it with the Jets. If some of their players can really grow into the contracts they were handed, then this team can potentially have some seriously bright years ahead. No one in the high-up hockey world is giving these guys credit, and being a Jet fan you almost prefer it that way. We may not merit much international exposure via NBC or ESPN, but those who have seen these guys in the MTS and around the streets for the last few years know that winning, and winning here would really be special. For if they can bring a true contender to this small, cold, humble city, then they will never again consider this as a, ”small” market.