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Winnipeg Jets Quarter Pole Poll

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Burning questions answered. Will the Jets make the playoffs?

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets are a quarter of the way through their 2014-15 season and they have played well. They aren't the bottom feeder that many in the media predicted, infact they are currently in the mix for a playoff spot. En route to this run of success, a few questions have been answered, a few new ones have been raised, so I posed a series of questions to our blog staff.

Who was the Winnipeg Jets MVP through 20 games?

Peter Siamandas:

Paul Maurice. The Jets are a solid playoff contender at the quarter mark, and Paul Maurice is the single biggest factor.   On the ice, the Jets have no MVP. Ondrej Pavelec has been good, but apart from the Rangers game, he hasn't stolen any games. Ladd and Wheeler are their top-two scorers, but each of them has only had a handful of noteworthy games. The reason the Jets are in the playoff picture - despite averaging just two goals per game - is because of the way they've tightened up their defensive play. And given that the personnel hasn't changed much, one must attribute the change to good coaching. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what Paul Maurice has done to get these results, but they seem to be clogging the neutral zone better, and giving up fewer odd-man rushes. And contrary to popular belief, their committment to defence probably isn't the only reason they're scoring less - a low team shooting percentage is just as big a factor.

Trevor Maughan:

Blake Wheeler. Name me an NHL goal scorer more handsome than Wheeler. Go ahead, I'll wait... Wheeler is off to another torrid start and is making me look like a complete fool for questioning his 6 year contract. If that doesn't impress you then I don't know what will.

Travis Hrubeniuk:

Brace yourselves for this one from me... but it has to be Ondrej Pavelec, right? The team isn't scoring much, so I don't feel right giving it to a forward. I've seen too many defensive gaffs from some defensemen, and nobody has really "stood out" more than Pavs. He might regress, but to this point in the season it's hard to look past his performance. He's got my nod for now.

Trevor Rinn:

Paul Maurice. No, he's not a player, but he's working with the same group that have underwhelmed for three straight years. Suddenly, they're a top defensive team. The only major change this team has seen is the name on the coaches door.

Breanne Mellen:

I'm torn between Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little. Little just screams consistency. He's useful wherever he's placed on the ice and does all those little things to help out his team. While he's likely had a few games where he has been less than stellar, for the most part Bryan Little has never crossed my mind as someone who needs to go. Wheeler leads the team with 8 goals and 5 assists (13 points total). When he's not pretending he can actually fight, he's busy on the ice trying to add to that total.

Daniel Lipson:

How can I give it to anyone other than Ondrej Pavelec?  His .923 SV% in 17 games is terrific - far better than he's ever performed before - and totally unexpected.  Pavelec has single-handedly turned this team from an also-ran into a playoff contender this season.

Ryan Blight:

Blake Wheeler - He's doing everything for the Jets. Scoring goals, playing major minutes, fighting. He's been the best player on the team and made other players (hi Thor) completely irrelevant.

Derek Gagnon:

My vote goes to Blake Wheeler, but it was a pretty even race as the Jets have not had to rely on any one person for their success so far this season. Wheeler gets the nod because I find he is the most dangerous Jets player at any given moment. Punching people in the face earned bonus points.

Biggest surprise through 20 games?

Peter Siamandas:

Zach Bogosian. Zach Bogosian has been much maligned in recent years. From injury-riddled season, weak offensive production, and seemingly mindless plays in all zones, the former 3rd overall pick was often considered the next-biggest disappointment after Ondrej Pavelec. But suddenly, Zach's has found a new groove. He's just 1 point behind Toby Enstrom for the team lead in points among D, and he's suddenly making heads-up plays all over the ice. And all this while playing against the best competition night-in, night-out. According to Pierre McGuire, he's been one of the NHL's 3 most improved players! High praise, and well deserved thus far.

Trevor Maughan:

Ondrej Pavelec. This will be unanimous because, well, Pavelec. I've seen him go on short runs of fantastic play before, but he generally seems more composed in his crease this year. If he can clean up his rebounds and remain in the so called "best shape of his life" then heads around Winnipeg will continue to turn.

Travis Hrubeniuk:

On the same note, Ondrej Pavelec has been the biggest surprise. It's quite likely this rate of success doesn't hold up all season, but we have to ride it while we can. WEEEEEEEEE!

Trevor Rinn:

Team scoring, or lack of it, in this case. These guys score less than me, which is saying something. At this point, I"m not sure they could score at the Palomino Club at closing time with a fistfull of dollars and a case of beer.

Given the talent in the top six, including 30 goal scorer Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd (usually good for 25+), and Blake Wheeler (28 last year).

Breanne Mellen:

Adam Lowry. I knew he was good, he wouldn't have made the cut if he wasn't, but am pleasantly surprised with what he's shown so far this season.

Daniel Lipson:

Again, how can I give it to anyone other than Ondrej Pavelec?  I'm so used to sub-par goaltending from Pavelec at this point that I barely even considered above-average goaltending to be a possibility.  But he's doing it, and he has the Jets in playoff position.

Ryan Blight:

The goaltending - Ondrej Pavelec has been very good. Michael Hutchinson has been great. The Jets GAA is way down and the sv% is way up.  I like to consider GAA as a team stat, but sv% as a player stat, and both goalies have been excellent.  But is it sustainable?

Derek Gagnon:

Adam Lowry has far surpassed my expectations for him this season. After a terrific pre-season, he has proven that he can use his size to his advantage and has passed the eye test defensively while finally finding his scoring touch in the last week.

Best storyline through 20 games?

Peter Siamandas:

Michael Hutchinson. After earning AHL playoff MVP honours last year, and having some early NHL success, it's hard to believe that Michael Hutchinson was playing in the ECHL at this time last year. Hutchinson actually had a shaky start this year, after he was pulled in the Jets' third game against LA. But since then, he's been absolutely rock solid. In his last 4 appearances, he's given up just 3 goals on 94 shots, which includes a goal off Mark Stuart's leg (Carolina), a screened point shot (Minnesota), and a wild goal-mouth scramble (New Jersey). The high point was a 33-save shut-out on the road in Chicago - a game in which the Jets were outplayed, but came away with a 1-0 win. Overall, his record is 3-1-1, with a 1.38 G.A.A, and a .948 save %. Hutchinson's style also inspires confidence - he looks big and calm in the net, he handles the puck well, and he is poised and relaxed off the ice. While goalies are a fickle bunch, the Jets may have found their future #1.

Trevor Maughan:

"Hey did you hear? The Winnipeg Jets are in a playoff spot. Never mind that it's November  5th... PLAYOFFS!!!"

Travis Hrubeniuk:

Michael Hutchinson's play to this point of the season. It looks as if the Jets might actually have a legit option if and when Pavelec drops off.

Trevor Rinn:

The best story has been the one that hasn't materialized - Dustin Byfuglien playing forward hasn't resulted in any complaints from him to the media. It's a non-issue. This was a situation that could have easily went sour: Buff could have been really unhappy about the move, complained, demanded a trade and generally been the modern day pro athlete people have come to expect. He hasn't, and that's great news.

Breanne Mellen:

The rise of Michael Hutchinson. I have long been a supporter of Hutch since he skated with the Providence Bruins and was ecstatic when he signed with the Jets because it seemed like he would finally get a chance to show what he can do. While he's had a few hiccups, he's proven himself to be a solid backup goalie that can be relied upon when needed.

Daniel Lipson:

I'll expand a little bit on this one and say the Winnipeg Jets' goaltending in general has been, by a country mile, the best storyline so far this season.  Ondrej Pavelec has posted a .923 SV% in 17 games, well above what we've come to expect of him.  Meanwhile, Michael Hutchinson, who excelled in an extremely small NHL sample last season, has picked up right where he left off; Hutchinson's .948 SV% in six appearances is downright spectacular.  Goaltending is the reason that the Jets have been as successful as they are so far this season.

Ryan Blight:

Paul Postma - Postma has been a revelation on the 3rd-pair on the RH-side, as he's certainly set the fanbase at ease after watching Zach Redmond leave as a UFA.  With Bogo, Trouba and Postma, the RH-side is set.  As for the LH-side...

Derek Gagnon:

Clutchinson. Michael Hutchinson continues to shine in his backup role. I was very disappointed in the decision to pull him after 3 goals on 13 shots in his first start of the year, especially with the way the defence was playing in front of him. I am just not a fan of doing that to a young goalie in his 4th NHL appearance. Luckily, he rebounded well and has terrific numbers so far that reflect how he did in his AHL Calder Cup final playoff run last year with St. John's.

Most frustrating storyline through 20 games?

Peter Siamandas:

Over-reliance on Pavelec. Is Ondrej Pavelec the only goalie in town? Is there no capable back-up around to spell him off at the tail end of a round-trip, perhaps in a back-to-back situation? At this point, it's far too early to say that Pavelec isn't the #1, but year after year Pavelec's play takes a nose dive later on in the year, and many people attribute that to the heavy workload. Now that there's clearly a solid youngster backing him up, if not an heir apparent, they should split the duties more equitably.

Trevor Maughan:

"Hey did you hear? The Winnipeg Jets are in a playoff spot. Never mind that it's November  5th... PLAYOFFS!!!"

Travis Hrubeniuk:

Chris Thorburn: every day NHLer.

Trevor Rinn:

"We're gonna go with Pavs". What, exactly, does Michael Hutchinson have to do to get a few more starts around here? As of this writing he is leading the NHL in GAA, Save%, and backstopped the team to a shutout of the Chicago Blackhawks. We've seen what happens to Ondrej Pavelec at the end of the year when he's been used to much - the numbers aren't pretty. So why isn't the backup - who is playing above and beyond what you expect from a backup - getting a bit more game time? Even if the team insists on keeping Hutchinsons workload low, I think he could handle 20 games - and wouldn't it be nice to not worry about how much Pavelec has been used going into the final 10-15 games of a season?

Breanne Mellen:

Jacob Trouba often seems to go missing and while I understand that being paired with Mark Stuart is likely holding him back, I feel like he should be making a bit more of an impact on the ice. (NOTE: Not sure if that's what you're looking for here, but yeah I harp on Trouba a lot because I just feel he should be making a bigger impact out there given his age and ability. If not this, I can think of something more relevant!)

Daniel Lipson:

For me, I think it's coaching and personnel decisions.

  • Paul Postma, a defenseman known almost exclusively for his offensive ability, barely plays on the Jets' power play.
  • Mathieu Perreault is probably the Jets' best face-off man, but wasn't really taking face-offs until the Minnesota Wild game, just two games ago; all the while, Adam Lowry and Mark Scheifele have struggled mightily in the face-off dot.
  • Ondrej Pavelec started in back-to-back games, only to promptly get pulled in the second half of it.
  • Chris Thorburn is playing five minutes a game against sheltered competition and has yet to score a point, while TJ Galiardi - who can play in the top 9 or on the penalty kill - sits in the press box.  To be fair to Thorburn, I think I'd rather sit Anthony Peluso, but that's about the strongest defense that I can mount.
  • Last but not least, Dustin Byfuglien continues to play as a forward, despite registering just 4 points as a forward in 20 games and sub-par possession statistics.  In my opinion, the Jets have mitigated one of their biggest strengths by playing Byfuglien on defense, and they've decreased his trade value while they're at it.

Ryan Blight:

Chris Thorburn - How is he still in the lineup? He's played less than five minutes in a game in 8 of his 20 (!!!) games played, twice under three minutes.  And his ice-time is going down just as the team-fatigue excuse begins to ramp up.  He's a liability that his coach clearly doesn't trust, and he doesn't fight.  Get him out of the lineup.

Derek Gagnon:

All I want for Christmas is for Zach Bogosian to play like he did three seasons ago. That's all I want. Because he really isn't showing any progress. He's still one of the better defenders on the roster, but that isn't saying much.



Biggest strength through 20 games?

Peter Siamandas:

Top-9 Forwards. While the offensive numbers aren't there yet, the Jets finally have three solid lines they can use to outscore their opponents at even-strength. (If you think back to 2011, they barely had two good lines!) Taking out Olli Jokinen - who is pointless in Nashville through 18 games - and adding a slick playmaker in Mathieu Perreault, a big-body in Adam Lowry, and Dustin Byfuglien permanently to the forward has not only been a big upgrade to their depth, but has also helped diversify their skill-set. Mark Scheifele also continues to progress in both ends of the rink, and the likes of Ladd, Little, Wheeler, Kane, and Frolik have established what they offer, and it's a lot. As a group, they generate a lot of good chances off the rush, but have also improved their cycle game down low, due in large part to Buff and Lowry. Not only is it a good group, but everyone is between 21-29 years of age, so they could be together for a while. (Depending on free agency).

Trevor Maughan:

Not the power play, that's for damn sure. I suppose being a superior Corsi team through this point of the season has been an area of strength. To be honest, I don't even know if the Jets are a positive Corsi team right now but if you read my opinions to get "facts" then you've got me all wrong.

Travis Hrubeniuk:

A solid top 9. They haven't scored much, and the Jets will get some deserved criticism for this. But I don't think you can keep this group down all season long. More often than not this season I have looked at the Jets top 9 and been quite pleased with how things look (none of those times were with Thorburn being promoted). I understand they are an injury away from looking much worse, but when healthy I like the Jets odds up front.

Trevor Rinn:

As of right now - and I can't believe I'm actually writing this - goaltending. It's true. Hutchinson has the leagues best save %. Ondrej Pavelec is currently #11 (at .923). The Winnipeg Jets are finally getting NHL-level play from their goaltenders.

Breanne Mellen:

The top two lines have been pretty excellent for the Jets this season so far. Ladd, Little, Kane et al have worked hard to make sure they're getting goals and contributing on the ice. While certain players (Scheifele. Byfuglien.) tend to get lost in the shuffle at times, on the whole the top two forward lines have been decent.

Daniel Lipson:

The Jets' top line forwards.  They are, flat out, a legitimate top line in the NHL.  Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane are both capable of being top-line left wings.  Bryan Little is a legitimate #1 centre.  Blake Wheeler or Michael Frolik, whoever plays there, are very effective scorers and possession forwards, respectively.

Ryan Blight:

Penalty Killing - Holy moly. Other teams can barely set-up on their powerplay. It's been amazing.

Derek Gagnon:

Not being a total clusterbomb in their own end? I don't trust my boy Stu to carry the puck, but I think that when he doesn't have it (too often, I know) he does some really good things defensively...apart from that fourth goal last night...and the one that went off his foot past Hutchinson. But really, the Jets D does look better, and the penalty kill has been superb so props to Charlie Huddy and the boys. A good PK is essential when the team takes as many penalties as they do.

Biggest weakness (room for improvement) through 20 games?

Peter Siamandas:

The Powerplay. As good as the top-9 is at even-strength, the one thing they lack is the vision and passing ability needed for a great powerplay. Aside from Mathieu Perreault, there's no one on the roster who qualifies as true playmaker; there's certainly no Marc Savard on this roster - someone to set up on the half-wall, wait till a seem opens up, and fire a perfect pass cross-ice for a great chance. On the bright side, the Jets have a few of these players among their prospects - Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, and Nik Ehlers to an extent. For now, the Jets will have to crowd the net, try their best to get pucks through the shooting lanes (easier said than done these days), and hope for the best. They have been scoring a lot off deflections - Wheeler, Ladd, Lowry, etc - but they've come mostly at even-strength.

Trevor Maughan:

The aforementioned power play springs to mind. What happens when you try to resuscitate a corpse that's been dead and embalmed for 5 days? I give you the Jets' power play.

Travis Hrubeniuk:

The powerplay is the obvious answer here, but I like to be different so I am going in a different direction. The lineup decisions could use some serious improvement. Now I will say that it looks like things are changing a little bit lately, but all around the roster I think better decisions can be made. Pavelec's workload, Stuart and Trouba being stapled together, Thorburn constantly being dressed, the lack of creativity on the powerplay, to how long it took to shuffle the lines to create goals; things can be changed.

Trevor Rinn:

It isn't the offense, despite the less than stellar performance. That will, over time, come back to average. Instead, I'd say that the defense is an injury to a top-3 away from being a complete disaster. Zach Bogosian isn't really a #2 guy, nor is Mark Stuart a second-pairing d-man anywhere else in the league.

Breanne Mellen:

Consistency among the defense. Toby Enstrom has been pretty awesome, but a majority of the rest of the players on D cause me to have night terrors. Also, Thorburn.

Daniel Lipson:

For me, it's the left side of the defense.  It's frustrating to say that because this has been a major weakness for a couple of seasons now, but it continues to be the case.  Tobias Enstrom has been steady as always, but the Jets lack a quality second-pairing defenseman and depth on the left side.

Mark Stuart, for all his physicality and shot-blocking, is simply not an effective top-four defenseman.  He allows opponents to gain the zone too easily, his skating is below-average, and he isn't a threat moving the puck (or offensively whatsoever, really).  Grant Clitsome had a strong pre-season, but hasn't been available for much of the season (and played on the third pairing anyway).  Adam Pardy has been quite effective, but only in extremely sheltered minutes.  The Jets lack another defenseman that can play the left side against tough competition, and it's only a matter of time until this begins to burn them.

Ryan Blight:

Powerplay - Holy moly. The Jets can barely set-up on their powerplay. It's been horrific.

Derek Gagnon:

The power play is a one trick pony, and everybody knows the trick. Toby to Buff for a point shot. Naturally, everyone has figured this out and shut it down. Option B is usually sening Wheeler fling up the left wing, which can be easily countered by proper defensive positioning.

Do you think the Jets have a chance to make the playoffs? What do they have to do to get there?

Peter Siamandas:

They do have a chance, but they need to do two things.

(1) Beat the teams below them in the standings

They've always shown that they can play up to the level of the best teams, and that has continued this year - beating Chicago, and putting up a valiant effort against Pittsburgh. However, in past years they've often struggled with the lesser-lites. If they're going to make the playoffs, they need to clean up against the non-playoff teams. Fortunately, they've been doing that thus - 2-0 against Carolina, 1-0-1 against New Jersey, beating Colorado and Arizona, etc.

(2) Play well within their division

If you're going to make the playoffs, you need to beat many or most of the teams in your division. This is a tough task, with opponents like St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota, and the surprising Nashville Predators. The early returns are good, as the Jets are 3-2-1 within their division, including 1-0 vs. Chicago, 1-0 vs Colorado, and an OTL on the road against  Minnesota. (1-2 vs. Nashville). Bottom line: If you're below .500 against your own division, the odds of making the playoffs are very low.

Trevor Maughan:

My motto has always been "don't tell me the odds". My magic 8-ball is broken, I hope to have a projection for you by the end of January.

Travis Hrubeniuk:

They have a better chance than I thought they would at this point of the season. They are right in the thick of things, riding hard on the back of a good stretch of goaltending and improved defensive play. If they want to be there at the end of the year, they need to continue to focus on strong defensive efforts EVERY night and hope that goaltending doesn't drop off too hard. That, and start putting the puck in the net more often.

Trevor Rinn:

I'm going to cop out and say "maybe". The *could* be, but it's going to take a pretty amazing alignment of the stars for it to happen - the offense needs to start producing, the defence and goaltending need to maintain their current pace, and most important of all, the team needs to be psychologically strong should one of those first three items not materialze.

Given the numbers to date, though, and the quality of some of their wins, there is no reason why the Jets can't be late for their annual tee time in April. They *are* getting solid goaltending, reliable defence, and still scoring enough to win most nights. If they score a bit more - enough to get to the middle of the pack -  that could be enough to push them into the playoff picture.

Unfortunately, it's unlikely that Chicago and Minnesota remain as stagnant as they have been, nor can you count on the Jets goaltending to remain red hot. They are only 2 points over the line right now, and while they have shown that they have taken steps, the mental toughness of this team (as a whole) should still be questioned.

Breanne Mellen:

You know what? I think they could stand a chance at making it this season. They'll need to ensure they play a full 60 each game and that they are engaged in the play and being smart out there. Ondrej Pavelec needs to play like he has shown he is capable of doing and Hutchinson needs to remain solid in net for them to have a chance. In addition to this, to make them playoff bound, Paul Maurice needs to figure out what he's doing with the bottom two lines and the defence. Okay, so there's a lot going against them, but they could just sneak into a wild card spot this season. Crazier things have happened, right?!

I hope this is alright! If it's not, is it too late to play the "new kid" card? ;)

Daniel Lipson:

Yes, absolutely.  I've said for years now that with decent goaltending, the Jets could contend for a playoff spot.  Lo and behold, Pavelec and Hutchinson are playing fantastic, and the Jets sit 7th in the West.  Having said that, I think the Western Conference has improved in the last year or two, so it'll still be tough going from here on out.

In order to make the playoffs, the Jets are going to need their goaltenders to continue to perform at a high level, improve defensively (particularly the bottom half of the lineup), and get secondary scoring out of their 3rd and 4th lines.

Ryan Blight:

Nope. Not in the West. Not if they keep stapling the fourth-line to the bench. Making the playoffs is a marathon, not a sprint, and at the 21-game mark PoMo has pulled out the 'fatigue' factor before they've hit the first corner in the race.

Shooting percentage will surely go up. Save percentage will surely go down. And this team will surely tire out. Increased fitness won't help if you can't roll four lines. If this continues, the Jets will miss the playoffs and finish just outside in the 'mushy middle' AGAIN. Which is exactly what will drive me crazy..

Derek Gagnon:

Not right now, but they are so very close. Which sucks, because there is nothing worse in my mind than coming in 10th in the conference. Personnel changes and better player usage are essential. The Jets do not ice a playoff roster. Any team that puts Chris Thorburn and one of Adam Pardy or Grant Clitsome on the ice is not going to be successful. Also, not being wilfully ignorant of the fact that goalies do not perform well in back to back situations. That would be nice.

There you have it! That is what these bloggers think.

What is your take on the Winnipeg Jets through 20 games played? Share your thoughts below.