The return of the Winnipeg Jets was one of hockey's feel good stories in 2011-12, at least to those of us who are domiciled within the Keystone province. Fans definitely had high expectations for the club they inherited -- some even saw a post-season berth in the team's future.
Alas, these lofty hopes were not attained by a team who struggled with consistency -- mostly on the road. The Jets wrapped up the season with a 37-35-10 record and a rather respectable -21 goal differential. Through it all, Winnipeg kept their fans encouraged and optimistic, hanging on until the 79th game of the season before finally being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
Leading the team in points was Blake Wheeler who registered 64 (17G, 47A) in the eighty games he played. And while no Jets' player was able to eclipse the 80 point mark, it should be noted that Winnipeg boasted one 30-goal scorer in Evander Kane and two +20-goal scorers in Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little.
The main point of contention was the sporadic play of Winnipeg's goaltending tandem of Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason, whose GAA was one of the leagues worst at 2.95 average per game.
Pavelec will remain a focal point between the pipes, however Mason chose to return to the Nashville Predators through free agency this summer; his spot likely to be filled by the recently signed Al Montoya.
It will be imperative for Winnipeg's goaltending tandem to improve on last year's performance should the Jets wish to come anywhere near the post season in 2013.
- Mark Dekanich (G) via free agency (Columbus Blue Jackets)
- Olli Jokinen (C) via free agency (Calgary Flames)
- Julian Melchiori (D) turned pro (St. John's IceCaps - AHL)
- Al Montoya (G) via free agency (New York Islanders)
- Alexei Ponikarovsky (LW) via free agency (New Jersey Devils)
- Ivan Telegin (C) turned pro (St. John's IceCaps - AHL)
- Eric Fehr (LW) contract not renewed (HPK - SM liiga)
- Brett Festerling (D) contract not renewed (Nurnberg Ice Tigers - DEL)
- Mark Flood (D) contract not renewed (Yaroslavl Lokomotiv - KHL)
- Tanner Glass (LW) via free agency (Pittsburgh Penguins)
- Randy Jones (D) contract not renewed (UFA)
- Arturs Kulda (D) returned to Europe (Sibir Novosibirsk - KHL)
- Chris Mason (G) via free agency (Nashville Predators)
- Tim Stapleton (C/W) contract not renewed (Dinamo Minsk - KHL)
Three Team Strengths
Free Agent acquisitions
Any time you can replace Tanner Glass and Tim Stapleton with Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky, your roster becomes immediately better. No disrespect towards the two departed Jets, but their scoring punch and veteran leadership pales in comparison to that which is being brought in.
Impressive home record
For as bad as they were away from home, Winnipeg was simply dominant at the MTS Centre, finishing with the Eastern Conference's 8th best home record of 23-13-5.
If the Jets can sustain their efforts in front of the 15,004 faithful that pack Winnpeg's home rink, they will continue to give visiting opponents fits.
A year older, wiser and hopefully more improved, Winnipeg's young core will be depended upon to carry the load both offensively and defensively for the team. The Jets ranked 12th in scoring last year with input from youthful forwards such as Blake Wheeler, Alexander Burmistrov and Bryan Little -- all of whom are in contract years with much to prove. Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the progress of Evander Kane who minted himself a cool 5.25MM a year back in September.
Until proven otherwise, Winnipeg's goaltending will remain a point of weakness in the NHL's Eastern Conference. As Ondrej Pavelec enters the "prime" of his career, fans hope that he can add consistency to his game and lead Winnipeg to prominence.
Penalty Kill woes
Winnipeg's primary Achilles Heel was their subpar penalty kill, a unit that ranked 24th in the NHL with an efficiency rating of 80.1%.
Fancy stats dictate that certain players may have been more to blame than others, but the addition of Alexei Ponikarovsky could go a long way to improving the team's effectiveness in this area.
Porous road record
What more needs to be said about a team that went 14-22-5 away from home? It's amazing the Jets' were able to cling to the playoff bubble for as long as they did considering their road record was so gawd awful.
16- Andrew Ladd, 18- Bryan Little, 26- Blake Wheeler
9- Evander Kane, 12- Olli Jokinen, 13- Kyle Wellwood
23- Alexei Ponikarovsky, 80- Nik Antropov, 8- Alexander Burmistrov
22- Chris Thorburn 19- Jim Slater, 46- Spencer Machacek
20- Antti Miettinen, 55- Mark Scheifele†
39- Tobias Enstrom, 33- Dustin Byfugilen
6- Ron Hainsey, 44- Zach Bogosian*
5- Mark Stuart, 24- Grant Clitsome
38- Paul Postma, 7- Derek Meech
31- Ondrej Pavelec
35- Al Montoya
1- Mark Dekanich
*Defenseman Zach Bogosian is still rehabbing after wrist surgery this summer and may not be an option for the start of the season.
†Center Mark Scheifele will be invited to Jets' camp, though we predict he will be returned to the Barrie Colts of the OHL so as to not burn a year of his entry level contract.
Given the fact that the season will be a Texas scramble at best, it's difficult to handicap how things will shape out with any accuracy. The Jets will face one of the league's most rigorous travel schedules (more on that later), and it's difficult to fathom them finishing any better than tenth in the East given previous road woes and the disadvantage of playing in a division with no geographical perks.
Now we throw it you you: What do you think of the Jets' chances this year? Let us know in the comments section!