The Winnipeg Jets may be back in the NHL for the first time since the 1995-96 season but they are no expansion team. Much like when the Jets left for the Arizona desert, the team that Winnipeg acquires isn’t holding an empty cupboard when it comes to NHL talent. The Jets’ problem has been consistency over the length of an 82 game schedule, something the organization hopes will change in an environment that is a hockey hot bed.
Heading into the season with a new head coach and general manager apparently was enough for the organization. The Jets didn’t lose too much in the offseason, but they also didn’t bring much of significance in either. Eric Fehr was the prized signing, a move that could pay dividends for the Jets this season if he’s able to fulfill his 20 goal potential this year. The biggest loss for the Jets this offseason had to be Anthony Stewart, a young and promising forward who scored 14 goals and had 39 points in his first full NHL season. That loss could prove costly for the Jets a few years down the road. Aside from those moves not much of significance happened either way.
The lack of moves by Jets management sends a few messages to the fan base heading into this season. The first is that they believe this hockey club has the talent to compete for a playoff spot under the right circumstances in the Eastern Conference. The second is that it might be difficult to entice players to come to Manitoba without grossly overpaying. So for now the Jets start their second NHL life looking to Dustin Byfuglien, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Andrew Ladd to lead the franchise to the playoffs. No doubt, those four are a solid core to build around, but the Jets will need more consistency from Byfuglien defensively despite his gaudy offensive numbers, Kane to take that next step towards being one of the better young players in the league, and Bogosian to develop fully into the player they dreamt about when they selected him in the entry draft a few years ago. Ladd is about as good of a leader as you’re going to find around the league, so the Jets should have no issue in that department.
Can Tobias Enstrom continue to increase his ridiculous offensive stats from the blueline? Is this the year Alex Burmistrov breaks out and helps Kane with the offensive burden? Can Niclas Bergfors improve on his numbers from last season? The list of questions go on and on for the ex-Thrashers. Questions surrounding Bryan Little and his ability to replicate his production, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and whether or not he has the ability to lead a team to a playoff berth.
The Jets’ biggest challenge in the coming year might be dealing with the extended travel they’ll have to face due to still playing in the Eastern Conference. With a new fan base and home rink, the Jets should be able to develop a solid home ice advantage, so it’ll be imperative for them to play .500 hockey on the road this year. With development in the right areas and solid play in goal, the MTS Centre might be looking at a surprise playoff team in its first season back in Winnipeg.