Since the Winnipeg Jets have returned to The Gateway to the West, I have been a man divided. Constantly at odds with myself, I spent the majority of the 2011-12 season mulling over different scenarios through internalization. Burning questions etched themselves in my mind as I struggled to understand whether certain on-ice trends were aberrations or whether they spoke to the overall theme that the year would entail. This off-season, things have not improved. More and more these questions linger as I struggle to answer them the best I can.
This week, we will be highlighting the five most important questions surrounding the Winnipeg Jets as the 2012-13 regular season approaches.
In our final instalment, we dissect how the Southeast Division and subsequent Eastern Conference playoff race will play out.
Alright, you left me hanging last time we talked playoffs. Will the Jets be able to win their division this year?
What!? The Southeast stunk last year! You ignoramus!
You're right, last year the Southeast stunk. In fact, it's stunk the the past five years. But this season will be different.
By all accounts, the Washington Capitals had a down year and...
Wait, aren't you a Capitals fan? And you blog about the Jets? Oh, that's rich... LOL lame!
Be that as it may, most predicted the Caps would win the Eastern Conference let alone the Division and that didn't happen. This summer they added Mike Ribeiro, Wojtek Wolski and a new coach in Adam Oates. George McPhee chose not to re-sign Alexander Semin -- a decision which may or may not pan out as they hope.
Though they still have to lock up John Carlson, their defensive corps will stay mostly the same heading into camp (if there is one). The swap of Ribeiro for Semin is at least a lateral move, and they now possess two talented centres to pair with Alexander Ovechkin.
If last year was a blip on the radar, I'd expect them to be back in the mix at the top of the division again.
Then there's the Carolina Hurricanes. Jim Rutherford set a bomb off in his front office this June when he was able to acquire Jordan Staal for an arrangement of draft picks and prospects, immediately bringing credibility back to his milquetoast roster. Little more than a month later, Rutherford drove a dump truck full of money up to Alexander Semin's house, signing him to a risk free 1-year 7MM deal. The additions of Staal (brother of Eric to all those keeping score out there) and Semin add integral scoring depth to the Hurricanes front lines. If Justin Faulk and Jamie McBain continue to make strides on the blue line, they along with the Capitals will fight for the division title.
Well, you can never count a team that boasts a 60-goal scorer, so the Lightning could be in the mix too.
This upsets you?
You act as if the Jets didn't better their roster too!
Well, fortunately for fans, the Jets were more active than the Florida Panthers.
Zing. Back on track, are you projecting them to finish fourth in the division?
Yes. Possibly third if Stamkos can't put the Lightning on his back again this year.
So the playoffs are out of the question?
Again, yes. Considering that the Southeast only sends two playoff representatives on a good year, finishing behind the Hurricanes and Capitals puts them too far in the rear-view mirror to qualify.
You're such a downer, man. All week we've rode on the wave of positivity and now you lay this shit on me?!
Making the playoffs shouldn't be a necessity right now. Would it be a fantastic achievement? Yes, without a doubt. But keep in mind, the Jets were one of the ten youngest teams in the NHL last year with an average player age of 26.4. And while there are some exceptions, for the most part, young teams have a tough time qualifying for the playoffs.
When the Winnipeg Jets moved north from Atlanta, the team was in year two of a rebuild. For the most part, professional hockey teams can successfully complete a rebuild in three years. After trading away Ilya Kovalchuk in the winter of 2010, it was clear that the Thrashers were back in rebuilding mode. And by looking over their roster and their prospect rankings, it should have been clear to most Winnipeggers that they were inheriting a three year project.
Okay, so technically, this is year three of the rebuild.
I disagree. The 2011-12 season was filled with mitigating circumstances. Last year was as much a learning season for the players as it was for management and staff. Now that TNSE has a clear vision of what they have in their possession and what they aspire to be in the future, they can continue to set the wheels in motion to becoming a constant playoff threat.
Making the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 would be nice. However, being in contention for the playoffs every year is much more important.