Here you are, kids, scant hours away from rockin' the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, and I'm not feeling the love for your Winnipeg Jets.
I mean, every turn I take in cyberspace leads me to someone slagging River City's hockey heroes. If they aren't picking the Jets to finish last in the Southeast Division, they're picking them to finish a whisker away from last in the Eastern Conference.
Take The Hockey News as a for-instance. Once considered The Bible of all Things Shinny, THN has forecast a 14th-place finish for the Jets. Twice. Apparently, the Winnipegs are superior to only one outfit east of the Transcona rail yards—the Brooklyn-bound Islanders. Which means...yes, kids, it means THN believes the Jets are inferior to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the most-dysfunctional outfit since Fox TV unleashed Al, Peg, Kelly and Bud Bundy on an unsuspecting audience.
Blueshirt Banter of SB Nation, meanwhile, tells us that "the Jets really don't have much" and will finish 14th in the EC, ahead of only les Canadiens, who have become Les Miserables. What say the talking heads at TSN? Fourteenth.
And the oddsmakers! Whooooo boy!
Last time I looked, Brian Burke has a better chance of winning a mayoral election in Toronto than the Jets have of swilling Molson Canadian from the Stanley Cup five months hence. Depending on the oddsmaker du jour, you can bet your bottom dollar on the Jets at odds of 50-1, 60-1 or 66-1 to haul hockey's holy grail back to Portage and Main in late June.
This is scandalous, and I'll tell you why: Because, once again, the Leafs are considered better than the Jets.
Oh, yes, my friends, the bookies and scribes see something in the Leafs that they don't see in the Jets. I am quite uncertain what that something is. Surely it can't be Phil Kessel, a one-trick pony voted most likely to land in coach Crusty Carlyle's pooch palace in Tranna. It can't be James Reimer or Ben Scrivens, the two guys tasked with the job of keeping the crease warm for Roberto Luongo, who's supposed to be the Leafs' starting goaltender this abbreviated National Hockey League season but who still isn't the Leafs' starting goaltender and might never be the Leafs' starting goaltender. And it can't be Tyler Bozak, otherwise known as the NHL's 30th-best No. 1 centre.
Seriously. What makes anyone consider the Leafs a better bet to win the Stanley Cup/Eastern Conference?
Is it something about the Jets that the experts don't like, rather than something they like about the Leafs.
Perhaps they think Dustin Byfuglien is fat and out of shape. Well, I've got news for them: Big Buff is not fat and out of shape. He is, in fact, in shape. It's just that his shape is a tad rounder than most players, that's all. But I'd still wager a bob or two that Big Buff would win a footrace with Leafs' captain Dion Phaneuf. To a loose puck or the buffet table. Take your pick.
Maybe they believe all those nasty things they read about Evander (Tweeter) Kane and his bad-boy/punk image. Well, believe this: He scored 30 goals last season. How many Leafs did that? One. Kessel.
Maybe they're confusing goaltender Ondrej Pavelec's save percentage with his blood-alcohol reading when he rear-ended another vehicle last summer in the Czech Republic.
Whatever the case, let's ignore the fact that James Reimer is from Manitoba. Now ask yourself this: Would you rather have Reimer or Pavelec in goal? How about on defence? Do you want Byfuglien or Phaneuf? Come to think of it, I'd take Zach Bogosian over Phaneuf, as well. Kane or Kessel? At least Kane isn't afraid to get his nose bent.
So when the Jets face off against the Ottawa Senators this afternoon at the Little Hockey House, I don't think I'll be looking at a 14th-place club. I like the Jets better than the Leafs, the Islanders, les Miz in Montreal, the Florida Panthers and the New Jersey Devils. That puts them in at least 10th place. Let's put it this way: There are only four outfits in the Eastern Conference that are certain to make the playoffs—New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. After that, it's a crap shoot.
Here's how I see it shaking down:
1. New York Rangers
2. Boston Bruins
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
5. Philadelphia Flyers
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Ottawa Senators
11. Florida Panthers
12. New Jersey Devils
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
In the final analysis, I believe two things will keep the Jets out of the playoffs: travel and the fact Zach Bogosian will be unavailable until the end of January, at the earliest. He's their best defenceman.
But the Jets are still better than the Leafs.