The Winnipeg Jets are below .500 only five games into the season. It is not time to ring any alarm bells, but it is fair to say the Jets are a young team trying to find it’s way and a team that is out of it’s depth in some positions. The Jets will probably lose more games than they will win this year, but they will also hopefully do so while playing a young team. And while that young team may not be the most exciting young team, it is a young team that can and will score goals.
One of the most apparent flaws is goaltending. While Ondrej Pavelec is not the answer, the young goalies have yet to step up. Connor Hellebuyck has a track-record of excellence that will hopefully translate to the NHL given a bit of time. On the other hand, the Jets are struggling in part because they do not have steady goaltending still. Adding in the Atlanta Thrashers years where the same team was assembled, there has only been a couple seasons where they have gotten acceptable goaltending. This is an issue that goes back to Atlanta and one that has held the organization back for years. The answer might be more patience and hope that both Helleuyck and Comrie fulfill the potential they have shown, but that is still an inexact science.
The defence is a more troubling position for the Jets. After Jacob Trouba demanded a trade because he saw that while he is better than Tyler Myers, Myers was always going to play above him in the line-up for reasons the Jets are short depth. It is painfully obvious that even with the break-up of Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, the Jets need at least one more good defender to compete every night. Josh Morrissey has been a revelation for the Jets and has been excellent alongside Byfuglien. The Jets have lacked that second defenceman behind Byfuglien with Myers not being up to the task. What they really need is Trouba back and playing beside Enstrom. That would take the defence from meh or worse to definitely something that could be something more.
The forwards are an odd group because what they seem to be missing is a veteran who doe snot need to be sheltered so those kids can be sheltered more. Someone like Drew Stafford is an adequate NHLer, but he is taking a valuable spot on a more sheltered line from one of the young players like Kyle Connor or Patrik Laine. It is showing for Connor. He has struggled to generate shots and might benefit from half a season or so in the AHL to better adjust to professional hockey. If the Jets insist on him staying in the NHL, he needs to be protected until he figures out how to help generate offence for the team. On the other hand, Laine is showing that he has had little need to adjust to the NHL from the Finnish Elite League. This is a major positive for the Jets and something that bodes well for the Jets in the long run. The hype is warranted; he is very good.
This brings me to some of the less talked about players. Joel Armia has been excellent for the Jets. While he will probably never fulfill the offensive promise some thought he had when he was drafted, he has shown himself to be a very good third or fourth liner as well as a penalty killer. Players like Armia are really good to have because while they may not score many goals, they are very useful at doing little things like winning puck battles and forechecking, which helps the team as a whole. In fact, the Armia-Lowry-Tanev line is a fourth line you can get behind because they are not a line of fighters, but a line of forecheckers. It is hopeful.
There are other signs of hope. While they have both played more than they should have, Chris Thorburn and Mark Stuart not being everyday players is a major positive for the Jets. While Thorburn especially should not be playing in the place of Armia, last season Thorburn was an everyday player. The fact he is being scratched regularly and is not playing much at all should be a positive. Now the next step is for Armia to not be taken out of the line-up for arbitrary reasons that make no sense.
There you have it. The Winnipeg Jets are probably not going to be very good this year, but they should at least receive better goaltending at some point. The young players will hopefully improve in the NHL and if not the Jets will hopefully be willing to send those players to the AHL to adjust to professional hockey in a slightly lower-stacks environment. If Trouba can be brought back and return to his best form, the Jets should be a much better team defensively especially if he plays alongside Enstrom like he should have been when Enstrom and Byfuglien were broken up last year. This year is going to be painful. The five year plan has not worked out as planned, but there are actual positives already being shown. The team has fought to come back in two games. They have some really good building blocks. Morrissey looks like a legit NHL defenceman. There will be some really painful games this year. It would probably be good if the Jets can trade Stafford and get a vet who does not need sheltering alongside the young players. But there are positive signs that things are finally being done to actually improve the Jets instead of just spin tires. This season will be a long one with many games that will leave fans grumbling about bad mistakes or stupid plays that lead to goals against and losses. Hopefully the pain will end soon and once that happens the Jets will be a good team that can and will be able to win more games than they lose, make the playoffs and hopefully compete for a Stanley Cup. Until then, it will hurt.