Five reasons why the Winnipeg Jets will make the playoffs

Posted by Ezra Ginsburg in Columns,featured3,Features,Jets Columns,Return of the Jets,Winnipeg Jets on August 1, 2011 — 20 Comments
In early July on The Illegal Curve Hockey Show (Sports Radio 1290 AM), Drew, Richard and I discussed (bickered?) whether or not we thought the Winnipeg Jets would be a playoff team this season. I was the only one on the show who thought the Jets would make the playoffs in 2011’12 and I’m going to use this space to explain why.
1. Youth
This is not your father’s NHL. Youth dominates now. According to NHLNumbers.com, the Winnipeg Jets are the youngest team in the National Hockey League at an average age of 26.431 (Toronto Maple Leafs are second at 26.543). In fact, Chris Mason (35 years old), Nikolai Antropov (31 years old), Randy Jones (30 years old) and Ron Hainsey (30 years old) are the four oldest players on the team and aside from Mason, are really not that old and just hit 30 recently.
Although hockey players not named Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby typically hit their prime between 25-27 years old (especially defenseman and goaltenders), there are several elite young players on the Jets who are in a good position to improve on the first few seasons of their careers and take the all-important next step to stardom. The two players who illustrate this the best are soon-to-be-20-year-old Evander Kane (who turns 20 on Tuesday) and Zach Bogosian (21 years old). Both of these players are high first round draft picks who played big time minutes in Atlanta last season and are expected to be building blocks of the Jets for years to come. (We should point out that as of August 1, Zach Bogosian is still a restricted free agent, but he is expected to sign a contract in the near future).

To me, the Jets hopes of making the playoffs rest heavily on the production of these two players (and the play of 23-year-old starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, more on him later). Last year, in his second season, Kane produced 19 goals and 24 assists over 73 games and received plenty of first line ice time.  Kane is fast, strong and physical and has the ability to change the pace of a game with his offensive prowess. It would not be ridiculous to project that Evander Kane will score 30 goals and 60 points this season playing in a mad-hockey market like Winnipeg. This increase in production will be key for a team that is not expected to be in the Top-10 or even Top-20 in the NHL in goals scored.

Bogosian, on the other hand, took a step back offensively during the 2010’11 season, registering 17 points in 71 games (down from 23 points the previous year).  Even though Bogosian is an offensively-skilled defenseman, he actually improved his defensive play last year which is arguably more important. Now, I know what some people are saying and I’m aware that Zach Bogosian was Minus-27 last year but he was often playing against the opposing team’s best players. Bogosian’s Even Strength Time on Ice (18:24) was 26th in the National Hockey League, remarkable for a 20-year-old kid. Bogosian definitely struggled at times with his positional play, but he took on more responsibility and logged important minutes.  In a more stable environment and under the tutelage of 5-time Stanley Cup Champion Charlie Huddy, Bogosian will have a better opportunity to improve his defensive game and learn how to become a more efficient player on special teams.

The remaining 4 reasons after the jump.

2. Goaltending

As mentioned earlier, Jets starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is still a young pup himself at 23 years old. Pavelec, who stands 6’3’’ and weighs 220 pounds, is perhaps the one player on the Jets 2.0 who has received the least amount of media attention in the off season and I really don’t understand why.

After starting last season with a scary on-ice incident that saw him collapse on the ice during a game, Pavelec set career marks for games played (58), wins (21) and shutouts (4), all the while playing on a team that was was wildly inconsistent and at times in turmoil. In reality, Pavelec was one of the main reasons the Thrashers were in the playoff race during the first half of the season and was one of the hottest goaltenders in the league at times (Pavelec won player of the week honours in late November, 2010)

Pavelec, who won the Calder Cup Trophy with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves in 2008, is a Top-10 goaltender in my opinion and is as fundamentally sound as it comes. Pavelec covers the ice well with his big frame and is an aggressive goaltender who has tremendous east-to-west quickness.

Make no mistake. This is a huge year for Pavelec. He is unquestionably the number-1 goalie and he’s going to be expected to carry the load for the Jets. This shouldn’t be a problem as Pavelec is not expected to start 70-75 games. Red Deer, Alberta’s Chris Mason is a veteran NHL netminder who can easily play 25-30 games if that’s what is asked of him.

You want a bold prediction? I think Ondrej Pavelec will be a Vezina Trophy candidate next year.

3. Defensive depth

The Jets are the not the Vancouver Canucks or the Chicago Blachhawks when it comes to depth on the blueline but the group that has been assembled in Peg City is surely above average.  Led by the afformentioned Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom, who was an early season Norris Trophy candidate in 2010’11, this corps has speed and skill in abundance. Throw in Dustin Byfuglien, Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey and Mark Stuart and this is a group that has physicality, experience and a year playing together.

Perhaps what is most impressive are the players that Jets signed during the off season who will most likely fill the #7 and #8 roles, Derek Meech and Randy Jones.  Both of these players are not flashy but bring a winning pedigree to the table.  In the case of Randy Jones, who signed a one-year/$1.15 million deal in early July, he has the versatility to play on the power play and penalty kill.

The strength of this team is going to be from the net out and although the Thrashers gave up a lot of goals last year (3.20, 29th in the NHL) that will improve significantly this year in my opinion.

4. The Eastern Conference is not that good

Yes, I know that the Atlanta Thrashers finished 12th in the East last year but the teams that finished directly ahead of them (New Jersey Devils,Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes) were not that good either. Carolina only came close to making the playoffs because they won 7 of their last 10 games and New Jersey began the season a depressing 10-29-2.

Now, before I continue I will say this. The Buffalo Sabres (Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino), New York Rangers (Brad Richards) and Washington Capitals (Tomas Vokoun, Roman Hamrlik and Joel Ward) have gotten better based on their off-season acquistions but I cannot say the same for the rest of the Eastern Conference, including the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers, who are teams that I believe the Jets are better then.

Take the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs finished 6th in the Eastern Conference last season with a 44-30-8 record (96 points). They played a significant portion of the season without top defensemen Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges yet still managed to be a top club in the East led primarily by Carey Price, who should have been a Vezina Trophy candidate last year (38 wins). I commend Jacques Martin ( a coach I really respect) and the Canadiens for that but I don’t seem them duplicating a season in which they relied too heavily on Price while players like Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez strugged to score goals on a nightly, even monthly basis (in Gomez’s case).

The Jets will play this season in the Southeast Division (the Jets will move to the Western Conference for the 2012’13 season) which means they will play six games against each of the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. In my opinion, the Jets can win 20 of those 30 games or two-thirds which will be a important determinant in their ultimate success or failure in earning a playoff spot.

5. The Whiteout

Even though the Jets first regular season game at the MTS Center on October 9th against the Montreal Canadiens is expected to feature a white-out, fans in Winnipeg want to wear all-white to a playoff game in April.

I’m not expecting those fans to be disappointed.

 

 

  • http://twitter.com/JZThrashNole J

    1 – Bogosian never played #1 defenseman minutes (not with Enstrom & Buff around, check out their minutes)
    2 – Pavelec collapsed DURING a game, not before.
    3 – Don’t get your hopes up.  This team has not been that good since the 1 playoff season and it’ll still be 2 years before they sniff the playoffs, I bet.  Maybe more with facing Western Conference teams more.

  • Anonymous

    Of the eight teams that made the playoffs in the East, seven of them made themselves arguably better (Montreal…not so much), so the Jets have a tough task.  All things being equal (it’s tough to say who will have a glut of injuries and who will under or over-perform), I see the Jets slugging it out in a tight bunch of teams between, say, spots 7-12 or 7-13. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502382575 Ezra Zuckerberg

    J, Thanks, it’s been corrected.

  • Anonymous

    A very optimistic read, but I love it! too many people jump all over bloggers who make predictions that are against the norm. If there is something we’ve learned from post lockout, it’s that anything can happen.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with number 1 and 2, but 3 is way off. This is not the same Thrashers team that finished up in ATL last season. A new city, new coaching staff, new owners=a new outlook. The Jets will be better than the Thrashers and should battle for the last 2 playoff spots

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.bonnar Tim Bonnar

    Bogo played far more PK (Buff and Enstrom rarely played here), played far less PP and got the difficult task of starting most of his shifts in the defensive zone. He was given far tougher.

  • http://twitter.com/ICrichyp Richard Pollock

    Bogosian played against the other team’s best players and started in his own zone considerably more than the other two, thereby allowing Enstrom and Byfuglien easier minutes and better offensive opportunities.  Never mind the power play.

  • http://twitter.com/ICrichyp Richard Pollock

    I don’t see it happening, but agree with the comment about optimism.  You are also right, that there are always surprises. The schedule should provide significant challenges, however.

  • http://twitter.com/ICrichyp Richard Pollock

    I think the Jets are arguably better than: NY Islanders, Maple Leafs, Senators and Panthers.  Puts them at 11.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.bonnar Tim Bonnar

    I won’t fault you for your optimism, but I will say: 

    That is far and away the most glowing projection for Pavelec I have heard anywhere.  Some don’t believe he will ever be much more than slightly above average. I hope you are right.

    The defense by all reports was atrocious last year. There are some good pieces in play, but a 7th and 8th defenseman aren’t going to turn it into one of the better units in the league.

    I agree with the rest though. Having fans should help at least a little and the youth is the key to this team.  Players like Kane, Burm, Pav and Bogo will determine how the team improves. Eventually, Kane and Burm need to work their way to the top of the roster. Without that, there plainly insn’t enough scoring ability. Otherwise, this team will need to turn into a defensive juggernaut. 

  • http://twitter.com/LukeMiguez Luke Miguez

    Pavelec will be our number one for years to come, whether he’ll be a Vezina challenger this year, let alone into the future remains to be seen.  That said he has a high ceiling and possesses the tools required.  

    If the Jets actually make the playoffs this year, though, it’ll be because our young guns overperform their expectations.  Kane putting up 30-30 points, Burmistrov 50 points, Pavelec stands on his head all season, etc.  

    I don’t see the Jets making the playoffs, nor do I think they want to anyways.  Preferably this season we want to work on developing the roster.  Give the prospects some productive NHL time, get some decent assets at the deadline and then work on filling the cupboard at the draft.

    If we want to have this discussion next year, I think the desire to make the playoffs is more productive long-term.  I just don’t see it this year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=502382575 Ezra Zuckerberg

    Thanks for the comments guys. Go Jets Go!

  • http://twitter.com/ou812jay8 Jay Steyer

    I can see the Jets making the playoffs this year.  The travel schedule isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, with long road trips and long homestands instead of the typical back and forth that most teams have.  The Rangers are better if Gaborik stays healthy, which is 50/50 at best. Montreal is not improved, Philadelphia took a step back(but still should be pretty good), and Buffalo has improved only on paper to this point.  Bogosian has all the talent in the world but was hurt by mental lapses(bad passes, out of position, hesitant on shots), hopefully the new coaching staff can help him.  He does better when he can sort of freelance on offense and push the pace.  Pavelec can be AMAZING, and seems to do better in games when he gets 40+ shots than when he gets 20 or so(wierd, but I think the numbers might back it up).  A lot of his bad games were because his defense let him down.  Bogo’s issues, Byfuglien being put back on “D”, Oduya makes dumb mistakes, and Hainsey is average at best.  Pavs can be a Top 10 goalie in the NHL with the talent he has.  In regards to the “Whiteout”, granted it wasn’t often, but when the Thrashers played in front of a sold out or near capacity crowd at Philips, they sucked.  Hope they do better in Winnipeg than they did in Atlanta with a full house.  This team has the talent to be a playoff team.  Stay healthy, keep maturing, and play smart.

  • Anonymous

    I think you’re painting too rosy a picture Ezra. It’s depending on a lot of players improving just by having a solid crowd cheering them on every night. We have a team that finished 12th in the east last year with few additions. The players will still be getting settled into a new city & adjusting to a new system in coaching & management.
    A few teams in the east got weaker (Flyers & Canadiens) but that’s not enough to move up 4 spots.
    This will be a year used by management to identify weaknesses & strengths under a new system. Next off season they can adjust for those & do trades/signings to fill the weak spots. Then possibly a playoff spot. They’ll also need to do some retooling for when they move to the western conference. They’ll probably have Zinger & the scouts watching the west very carefully.
    For now I see 11-13 in the east.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tim.bonnar Tim Bonnar

    I don’t have any issue with them finishing towards the bottom of the league either. i just want to see progress from the young guys. Another year with a top notch draft pick won’t hurt anything.

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  • joe cefali

    i’m just excited to be talking about NHL Hockey in Winnipeg again — its surreal. 

  • http://twitter.com/ericmusick Eric Musick

    Love it! This is exactly the mentality we need as a small market team! Let’s keep it optimistic and positive, what’s the worst case scenario? We don’t make the playoff’s.  Hey, we got our team back, that’s what matter’s.  The playoff’s will come.  Here’s my “bold” prediction.  The Jets will finish in 7th just above the Flyers to MAKE the post season. Yeah, right on!

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