Reasonable Expectations and the Jets' Way Forward

As the Atlanta Thrashers, the Jets finished 25th with 80 points and a -46 goal differential last year.  So three days ago, I asked you for your reasonable expectations for the Winnipeg Jets' upcoming season.  Your prediction for their eventual finish?  Between 18th and 19th.  Let's see where that would have lined up over the last few seasons:

 

Season Rank Points 18th-19th
2010-11 25th 80 92
2009-10 23rd 83 88
2008-09 27th 76 90
2007-08 28th 76 89

 

I'm not going to lie to you - your expectations seem optimistic: a 10-point or roughly 30-goal improvement.  But if the Jets were going to try to pull that off, how would they go about it this summer?

Atlanta was a little bit below average in goals for last year, but tied for 28th in the league in goals allowed with 269.  Not surprisingly, they were significantly outshot at even-strength.  So it stands to reason that it'll be easier to improve on the shot reduction side of the ledger - luckily, defense-first players are much cheaper to acquire than offensive ones. (I'd encourage you to take a look at Behind the Net for a not-so-gentle introduction to the kinds of advanced stats we sometimes use to evaluate players here.)

Some possibilities:

 

Joel Ward - Age 29, RW, Nashville Predators: Ward will be in high-demand, no doubt, and should expect a raise over last year's $1.5M.  He had very positive on-ice shot differential last season while taking a huge percentage of defensive-zone faceoffs against top competition.

Marty Reasoner - Age 33, C, Florida Panthers: Reasoner had a similar profile to Ward last season, though his usage wasn't quite as extreme and his results weren't quite as good.  But nobody looks good in Florida, so it's possible Reasoner won't be in quite as much demand and can be re-signed for $1.5M or less.

There are a few other players of this type available - John Madden, Marcel Goc, Jerred Smithson and Radek Dvorak spring to mind - but they all come with bigger performance or age question marks than Ward and Reasoner.  Nonetheless, a team like Winnipeg could benefit from some low-cost risks on the roster.

On defense, the options are a lot thinner.  Two players spring to mind: Scott Hannan and Jan Hejda, both of whom were shutdown defensemen before last season.  Hannan's usage was completely different after his trade to Washington, where there were several players ahead of him on the defensive depth chart, but there's no reason to believe that he has completely lost his ability at age 31, especially after posting reasonable results the last two seasons. 

Hejda wasn't traded, but new Columbus coach Scott Arniel no longer used him as the team's - and league's - #1 shutdown defenseman.  With softer competition and easier faceoff starts, Hejda's numbers improved year-over-year. If either one of these guys is available for $1.5-2M on a one- or two-year deal, they'd be good risks for Winnipeg to take.

Bottom line: there are many reasons that Winnipeg's new season ticket holders were asked to take on five-year commitments.  But most important is that the team is unlikely to be competitive until the end of that time frame.  Adding defensive players on low-cost, short-term deals won't stand in the way of longer-term success and has the added benefit of being an undervalued way of improving team performance.  We know very little about the new front office's strategy and I can only hope they don't make any rash decisions on Friday in an attempt to make a big splash.

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