Dustin Byfuglien is a major factor on Winnipeg's blueline, coring 28 points in 43 games last season, and is also part of Team USA's Olympic orientation camp. (Photo by Travis Golby/NHLI via Getty Images)
THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: No. 7 in Central Division
2013: 24-21-3. 9th in East.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Evander Kane (69), Blake Wheeler (67), Andrew Ladd (60).
KEY DEPARTURES: Nik Antropov, Antti Miettinen, Kyle Wellwood, Alexander Burmistrov, Mike Santorelli, Derek Meech.
KEY ADDITIONS: Devin Setoguchi, Michael Frolik, Matt Halischuk, Adam Pardy.
THE PROS: A deep, potentially dynamic defense and a young forward unit full of production potential will take this team as far as it’s able to grow and mature as a unit. Depth lines and special teams has certainly been an issue for the Jets in the past, but is one they tried to tackle by adding Frolik to the third line and PK, and Setoguchi to the second line and PP.
THE CONS: A recent history of late-season meltdowns naturally leads to plenty of doubt around this team. Two years ago Winnipeg had won four of six games and sat only two points out of eighth on March 17. But they only won three of their remaining 11 games and eliminated themselves. Then last season, the Jets won five games in a row and were tied in eighth with the New York Rangers with only four games left in the season. But again they melted down, losing three of those four and finishing four points out of the playoffs. Yet the main pieces of this roster have been rewarded with long-term contracts. Stable goaltending is also somewhat of a concern. While Ondrej Pavelec is fully capable of stealing a game here and there, he’s also a liability from time to time and needs to improve on a 2.80 GAA and .905 SP. Finally, don’t get sucked into the idea that a move West means less travel and better rest for the team – they’ll actually put on more miles in the new set up, per Dirk Hoag.
X-FACTOR: Olli Jokinen or Mark Scheifele, whoever earns the second line center role. That guy will lineup next to Evander Kane, who desperately needs some support on his line to bring out the superstar potential within. Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd had superb seasons on the top line and if a center can keep up to Kane’s level on Line 2, Winnipeg’s offense will suddenly transform into something much more dangerous. The problem is, Jokinen was brutally inefficient last season and Scheifele would be playing his first full pro season if he makes the team.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: The Jets will once again crumble down the stretch and miss the playoffs for the third year in a row in Manitoba, which will cost coach Claude Noel his job.
CENTRAL NO. 7: WINNIPEG JETS