Hockey

Paul Maurice – He could have stopped this Blues thing at the first hurdle. Instead he got an immensely more talented team to quit on him and let the monster out of the box. Kept his job though, which you have to be impressed by. Continually runs one of the dumbest teams in the league.

Dustin Byfuglien – Actually, ditching out on Winnipeg to drink on a beach somewhere is all of our dreams.

Winnipeg Airport – Because it doesn’t exist.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Jets 3-2-0   Hawks 0-2-0

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

LOOKING FOR AN AIRPORT: Arctic Ice Hockey

The Hawks will try and get their first points of the season in the second of seven straight at home, and they’ll do it in their first division game of the nascent season. The Winnipeg Jets roll in having won their last two, steamrolling both the Penguins and Wild after opening the season being looser defensively than the current bond on my windshield wipers (minor car repair is not my thing).

In their first three games, Winnipeg surrendered 14 goals in the three-game New York swing. They’ve tightened up to only let in three in the last two, but this blue line is a mess either way. Jacob Trouba and Ben Chiarot are gone, Dustin Byfuglien is off looking for answers, and what’s left is a shallow and brackish pool. Or Poolman (KARROOOOOGGGAA!). When your top pairing has Dmitri Kulikov on it, you know you have issues. Neal Pionk and Josh Morrissey aren’t doing much to help, which is why the Jets are surrendering the third most shots per game at a touch over 36. That’s even worse than the Hawks! It can happen!

But, as you know after all these years with the Jets as division foes, if there’s any team that can outshoot its defensive waywardness and lack of possession, it’s this outfit. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor have switched places on the top two lines, which hasn’t stopped the top one from scoring even though they have some truly whiff-tastic metrics. Bryan Little hasn’t started the season yet due to brain injury, but Andrew Copp has filled in admirably. The Jets still have that hybrid checking line of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, and now Mark Letestu. They can do just about whatever you ask.

Because the Jets’ defense is a whatever is hopping cargo trains into town, Connor Hellebuyck is going to need to have a stellar season. So far so good on that one, as he’s up at .927 in three starts. The Jets do play tomorrow, hosting the Penguins this time, so the Hawks might get a look at Laurent Brossoit, one of the league’s better backups last year.

For the Hawks, it took two games for the lineup that shook out of Magic Training Camp to be blown up. To be fair to coach Kelvin Gemstone, the new look lines do make some sense, with the top three having the Puck-Winner-Playmaker-Finisher combos that Quenneville favored. Alex DeBrincat will shuffle up to play with Toews and Caggiula, and Kane will slot down to play with Dylan Strome and Andrew Shaw. The third unit that started so brightly against San Jose before being broken up and torpedoing the whole arrangement remains intact of Saad-Kampf-Kubalik (A little bit of the Kubbly!)

The shuffling doesn’t stop at forward, as Calvin de Haan‘s season debut has rejiggered the d-pairs as well. After being the low-hanging target that Colliton could call out, Erik Gustaffson is dropped to the third pairing with de Haan, as Colliton was shocked to find out that Gus can’t actually play any defense. Connor Murphy will join Duncan Keith, a pairing that just hasn’t worked as well as you’d think in the past. Still, Murphy is just about the only d-man on the roster with the mobility to cover for Keith’s wanderings and meanderings at his own line and down low. Maybe this time it will be different.

Robin Lehner will make his Hawks debut so Corey Crawford can get some air.

There are no must-wins in October, but it would behoove the Hawks to get off the schneid tonight. 0-2 is nothing more than a blip, whatever worrying signs contained within. But 0-3 starts to border on a whole thing, and it wouldn’t be too much longer before the Hawks have to play catch-up for the whole season. There’s already a strain and pressure on the players and coach and front office, and another biffed start to the season is only going to make it worse. Maybe this time there will be real consequences.

As if.

Considering the state of each teams’ defenses here, this one should have some goals. Entertainment is all we ask, and should get it to kick off a Saturday night.

Hockey

We bring our team previews to a close, where we most definitely didn’t skip anyone, with the team that has every chance to be the best comedy act in the league this year. A lettered captain has already fucked off for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink menu at Caesar’s. They hated their coach last year, and yet he’s still coaching. The defense has been ripped apart to the point where they really need Carl Dahlstrom. Patrik Laine bitched to everyone he wants to play on the top line, where there doesn’t appear to be any room, which will make his linemates on the second line feel very welcoming. There’s still a wealth of talent in Winnipeg, and on that alone they could cozy up to 100 points. Or they could deteriorate right out of the playoffs.

2018-2019

47-30-5  99 points (2nd in Central, out in 1st round)

3.29 GF/G (7th)  2.96 GA/G (15th)

48.9 CF% (19th)  47.7 xGF% (23rd)

24.6 PP% (4th)  79.2 PK% (22nd)

Goalies: Same as last year, as Connor Hellebuyck will be backed up by Laurent Brossoit. Hellebuyck didn’t hit the heights of the previous year, at a solid .913 overall. The problem for the Jets is they weren’t very good defensively, and they figure to be a measure worse this year. So .913 very well might not be near enough to not give up three goals per game or worse. More worrying, is that Hellebuyck lagged behind his expected save-percentage last year at evens, which simply can’t happen this year. Is he the .924 guy of ’17-’18 or is he more to the career .915? It’s probably the latter, but will that include enough miracles to keep their excellent finishing close enough to win games? Real question.

Brossoit was excellent as a backup last year, and if he puts up another .920 and Hellebuyck struggles a bit, Paul Maurice is going to have another headache he doesn’t know how to handle.

Defense: Goodness. This is a unit. Byfuglien has fucked off, and likely isn’t coming back. Jacob Trouba finally got his wish, which was an escape from Winnipeg. Tyler Myers shuffled off to Vancouver, though that’s not a bad thing. So the only remaining player from last year’s top four is Josh Morrissey, and we don’t know if he’s actually good or looked good next to Trouba. Dmitry Koulikov is still here, whatever that does for you. Promising kid Sami Niku has to start in the minors due to conditioning. Nathan Beaulieu, Anthony Bitteto, Dahlstrom, and Tucker Poolman are the very definition of “guys.” Maybe they think Neal Pionk is going to be more than the Rangers did, but this is a goddamn mess. And this was a team that didn’t have impressive metrics when it came to attempts and chances against last season. What’s it going to look like this one? Especially if they try and play as up-tempo as they have, which they kind of need to to get the most out of their forwards.

Forwards: With Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor back in the fold, there is still the ton of finish along with mainstays Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers. There are the nifty two-way guys in Andrew Copp, Mathieu Perreault, Jack Roslovic, and Adam Lowry. It’s not the happiest bunch thanks to the windsock moods of Laine and how everyone feels about the coach. And they’re going to have to continue to outscore opponents and their own defense, because it could be a real challenge. There are going to be nights when they put up five and six. There are also going to be nights when they hit a couple posts or aren’t quite as dynamic and their defense gives up five or six. If the power play isn’t clicking above 20%, they’re going to have real issues.

Prediction: Tire fire. This team absolutely quit on its coach in the playoffs last year and not kicking Maurice to the curb, who’s never known what he’s doing, was a huge mistake. They’ll probably sacrifice the first four to six weeks waiting for Chevyldayoff to clear the gas leak in his office and can Maurice’s ass. From there it’s about the hire and whether the players are too far gone or respond. If they stick with Maurice too long, this will definitely go into the tank and they’re only eight points or so away from slipping out of the playoffs altogether. There’s so much that can go wrong here. If Hellebuyck is only solid, that might not be enough. If no one on the defense claims a higher spot, they’ll get run over. If Josh Morrissey isn’t up to being the guy, they could get run over. If the forwards think they’ve missed their window and give up the fight, which they did once, they won’t score enough to outlast their other problems. And it won’t take much for that asylum up in Manitoba to completely turn on them and turn into a complete zoo.

It’s on a knife’s edge up there, and the smart money is it falls off.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Jets 45-29-4   Hawks 34-33-11

PUCK DROP: 7:30

TV: WGN

FROM YOUR FIRST CIGARETTE: Arctic Ice Hockey

And a one, and a two and a….WE SAIL THE OCEAN BLUE…

Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Anyway, the Hawks begin the last week of the season, and their last homestand, tonight against the Central-co-leading Jets. It’s also tonight when the axe could finally fall on their adorable yet futile playoff hopes, not that anyone hasn’t already considered those worthy of formaldehyde and makeup. The Hawks will claim they have to play until the final gong, but based on whatever that was in LA on Saturday, they can no longer hide from the truth either.

Not the case for the Jets, who will go on into the playoffs with great hope once again. Or they should have, based on what this roster was supposed to do. But despite their 94 points and shared throne at the moment, the angst and annoyance levels in Manitoba have been high for months. The Jets haven’t looked an all-powerful, planet-consuming monster they flashed earlier in the year and for most of last season. They still pile up wins and points through talent, but Jets observers will tell you it’s built on a foundation in the sand.

The big problem for the Jets is they’re just not very good defensively. They give up a lot of attempts, shots, and chances, and there’s been little they can do to stem the tide. The blue line has always been a touch short of glamorous, and it’s been missing Dustin Byfuglien for half the season. Which shouldn’t hurt the defensive game, but clearly has. The puck is in the Jets zone far more than you think it would, and there’s been no one around to change that. Josh Morrissey being hurt of late hasn’t helped that cause either. They lack a second puck-mover, and even Buff can go off the reservation at times.

The Jets forwards aren’t defensively-ignorant either, but don’t seem inclined as they have been in past seasons. This is a team that doesn’t need the puck in the offensive zone as much as anyone else to score, because the depth of talent in the front-12 is still ungodly. But they seem more interested in waiting around for it to get there instead of forcing it there.

Also not helping is that a Paul Maurice team has returned to being a dumb Paul Maurice team as is his wont, the fourth-most penalized team in the league. And when your PK sucks, and the Jets’ does, that’s a problem as well. Again, the massive amount of talent has overcome almost all of this for most of the season. But starting next week when the chaff gets culled and the Jets are only seeing good teams, they could get found out in a hurry. If they can win the division, then a matchup with either wildcard team shouldn’t really scare them, especially if Ben Bishop is hurt. Don’t and a true slog against the Blues awaits. But when the Predators come calling, or any of the Pacific after that, it might look a lot like it did last year. Which for this team, simply isn’t good enough.

They can get right against the Hawks of course, whom they’ve spanked twice in Winnipeg but played with their food long enough to let the Hawks hang around. The Hawks were able to get them to overtime in their one meeting on Madison, but again, that was more to do with the inattentiveness of the Jets. If the Jets can be bothered, the Hawks can’t match their speed or their size or anything close. That’s a bad combination. But if the Jets are still out where the buses don’t run, the Hawks can create some looks off this defense that can’t get right. Especially if Byfuglien and Myers are at their wanderlust best.

It doesn’t really matter anymore. With only four games left, there isn’t any “momentum” to be gained for next year. All this is is a test of the Hawks’ professionalism and pride, and whether they give a jot about what their coach has to say or planned. And even then, that’s a stretch. Some players can play themselves out of a spot next year I guess, but if you’re basing what you do on a final four games, that’s how some awfully shoddy decisions get made.

One last roundup…

 

 

Game #79 Preview Suite

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The Jets are a weird team, and we don’t just say that because they play in a barren husk of a province filled with frozen brains and an outsized chip on their shoulder (which just might be ice but we’ll study that later on). You think of the Jets as an offensive force, with four lines filled with speedy frost-giants that never stop. You know about Laine, Wheeler, Scheifele, Connor, Ehlers, Perreault, and a few more weapons on any given night. You just assume they dominate every game on the metric-sheets like San Jose or Tampa or Vegas or the like. But the thing is…they’re kind of not?

Dustin Byfuglien is also so stranger to the weirdness. You think of Buff, you think of the booming shot and the senseless/ridiculous/unhinged charges up the ice. You think of defensive laziness if not utter unawareness or complete indifference. You think of (often dirty) big hits (to players already down and not looking at him). You don’t really think of him as the key log to the entire system. But he might be?

Byfuglien has missed 40 games this season, returning on Saturday for the first time since the second week of February. Which means the Jets have played just about as many games with Dat Big Buck Guy in the lineup as without. And the difference is kind of clear.

Before Buff went down for the first time on December 30th (he would return in February for a few games before hitting a rather large ice tub again), the Jets were sort of what you think of. They were 12th in the league in attempts for per game, 14th in shots, 15th in scoring chances, and oddly 21st in high-danger chances. They were 20th in shooting-percentage, which didn’t seem to handicap them too much as they were 24-12-2. The Jets don’t need to dominate possession to score more than you, because of how much scoring they have.

Since that date, basically without Buff the whole time, the Jets are 25th in attempts for per game, 26th in shots, second to last in scoring chances, and 29th in high danger chances. The only thing that’s kept it from being nearly a total disaster is that the Jets have shot 9.7% as a team and they’ve gotten 92% of the saves at evens.

But what’s even more strange, downright world-view-shattering, is that the Jets have been so much worse defensively without Byfuglien. Before he went down, the Jets ranked 13th in attempts against per 60 minutes at even-strength, 18th in shots against, 10th in scoring chances against, and 12th in high danger chances against.

Since Buff’s injury problems, all their rankings have plummeted. Their attempts against have gone up five per 60 (ranking 29th), shots up 3.7 per game (29th), scoring chances have gone up three per game (21st), and high danger chances against went up one per game (17th). Considering Buff has no interest in being in his own zone and meanders around when he is as if he’s rooting for truffles, it seems totally inexplicable that the Jets would get so much worse defensively without him. But that’s the case.

What Buff does do is keep the Jets out of their zone. He’s their only-puck mover, and gets it up to the forwards better than anyone else on the roster, before of course fleeing up to join them like he was trying to cross No Man’s Land behind Diana Prince. Jacob Trouba is not that. Tyler Myers thinks he is but is just all-around helpless and dumb. It’s not really Josh Morrissey either. Buff aids the defense by making sure the Jets play it less.

Which is a problem going forward. The Preds are enough of a challenge, though their problems are at forward so it makes for a nice yin-yang matchup. But anyone who comes out of the Pacific is loaded with firepower, and if the Jets continue their considerate ways when it comes to doling out shots and chances, they’ll probably get lit up in the conference final again. Which means there’s a lot riding on Byfuglien. Fat jokes aside, that’s a lot to ask of one dude.

 

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Gametime Art has been our friend for too long for his sake, and a Jets observer for an even unhealthier longer time. Follow him @GametimeArt.

While the Jets sit atop the Central, at the time of writing, all is not well in Manitoba. What has Jets fans so angsty?

They had such a strong season last year that I think many expected them to be even better or at the very least as good and it’s been actually worse and it’s pretty easy to spot the issues this team has. The team has struggled all season on defense. Most nights they are out-shot, the offense has been inconsistent, and up until a few weeks ago Connor Hellebuyck was a very average goalie with a save percentage hovering around .907 … If this season happened in 2015, Jets fans would overlook all of that and be happy anyway. Now in 2019? Not so much. We expected another 50 win, 100+ point year and instead got what we got now which is still a good team, but one not playing up to the level they should be at.

Patrik Laine, 50 points?
Seems strange right? Back in November when he went all super-nova goal scoring sniper on us we thought he’d have 50 goals by February. Part of it is Laine himself has struggled at times with his play and the whole “body language” thing of being overly frustrated has been well noted, but there are also nights that it feels like Paul Maurice is expecting him to carry a line and be a play-maker more than a finisher which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s even the odd conspiracy theory that suggests the coaching staff may have submarined his season with questionable lineup decisions and not giving him chances to succeed, just so his RFA deal this summer won’t be as high as it sure was looking like it would be back in November. That’s how odd and crazy this season has been. In a strange way I get this feeling a season like this may end up making him a better, more complete overall player which is kind of what Maurice has wanted anyway. He has demonstrated a knack for slick passing lately, so who knows.
How has Kevin Hayes, aka Captain Stairwell, fit in?
He’s fit in ok and has been better than Bryan Little has been which is a relief since this is now the second season in a row the Jets have spent assets to pick up an actual decent second line center since Little isn’t really working out in that role. I’d argue he’s looked as good as Paul Stastny did when he joined the Jets last season which bodes well for the playoffs, but the difference here may be that Jets fans don’t want to get too attached since there probably will be very little chance the team can keep him beyond this summer.
Whatever the problems may be, this is a team that’s Cup-or-bust. So what’s it gonna be?
Unless this team pulls off something remarkable (like the Caps last season, so ya know, it’s possible) it’s going to be bust and I fear it may be in fact a one round and done type situation this season. That said, for as disappointing as it will be to miss out on a Cup, I don’t think the window is closing already. The Jets are still one of the youngest teams in the league, the core is still there beyond this season and there are still kids like Sami Niku and Kristian Vesalainen on the way.

 

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Derek Gagnon is a contributor at ArcticIce.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekGagnon1.

Overhanging the Jets season is a sort of “Cap-ocalypse” in the summer. Does this season have a feeling of now or never?
Not so much, though there is a feeling that this group will see some change next year. This team is still young, and players like Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine should only improve as time goes by. The way things are going, the Jets should be a contender for a number of years to come.
With the cap going to $83 million or so, the Jets have something around $27 million in space now, with Trouba, Laine, Connor seemingly the must-keeps, along with a few other free agents. It seems doable, Is it?
I think it’s doable, though some sacrifices will have to be made along the way. Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor look to be Jets long term, and will get paid handsomely on their next contracts. There are some questions on defense though. The Jacob Trouba contract situation has been a concern for years, and with only one more season of restricted-free agent status left after this season, if they aren’t able to sign him long term it may be time to move him in the off-season. Tyler Myers is another situation that needs addressing. He’s being paid $5.5 million  this year to play third pairing minutes, and not play them overly well. As an unrestricted free agent, I would expect the Jets to cut ties, but they may not if the Trouba contract isn’t long-term.

The cap being projected to go up to $83 million definitely works in the Jets favor, as that extra room will come in handy. Even then, it might mean more players on entry-level contracts on the team, rather than guys like Brandon Tanev. Mason Appleton and Kristian Vesalainen are a couple of names that could benefit from a cap crunch.

Why hasn’t Jack Roslovic popped more? Huge pedigree, big excitement, is it just the fourth line role he has right now?
Right now, I think it’s a combination of a lack of minutes and the insistence he play center, where he seems to be struggling. While dominant at the AHL level, it just hasn’t clicked at the NHL level yet. Things seemed to be progressing when he was briefly reunited with the former Manitoba Moose (AHL) line of Nic Petan, Roslovic and Mason Appleton, but Petan was dropped from the lineup in favor of Brendan Lemieux and there hasn’t been chemistry. Playing an average of 7:43 per night doesn’t help either.
Is there real worry about Connor Hellebuyck two months plus into the season? Or just negotiating the following season after playing deep into the playoffs for the first time and he’ll bounce back in plenty of time?
I think that it actually might be the change in pads that has plagued Connor Hellebuyck. The smaller chest protector seems to be taking some getting used to for Hellebuyck, which has seen more rebounds and the occasional tentative effort. I have full confidence that he will adapt and overcome, as he has exhibited his ability to be great at every level he has played at, including the NHL. His last three starts have been quite solid, stopping a combined 89 of 92 shots, so perhaps that corner has been turned.

 

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There was a point last season where it seemed like the Jets had learned. With all their talent, and all their speed, they didn’t need to “assert” themselves every night with idiocy and dick-measuring. It helped lead to their best season, and within some rotten luck of the Stanley Cup Final. The Jets finished 16th in penalty minutes per game last year. That had broken a streak of three seasons under head coach Paul Maurice where the Jets had finished no lower than 6th in penalty minutes per game. They were playing the wrong games at the wrong times. They seemed to have figured that out.

Not so this year. The Jets lead the league in penalty minutes per game, and nine players have racked up 20 minutes or more so far. They’ve racked up five game -misconducts this year, tied for the lead with Vancouver. They’re second in majors.

Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tyler Myers are the ones who seem to be most unable to get out of their own way, as their penalty-difference are worst on the team. They’re -7, -6. -6 respectively.

It would be infuriating to be a fan of the Jets and see them not want to remain at even-strength as much as they could. While they’re not the even-strength power they were last year, they’re among the bottom teams in drawing penalties and power play time. When you have Patrik Laine, you’d think you’d want to be setting him up in “the post” as often as damn possible on the man-advantage.

You could see this being a problem for the Jets down the road, where they’ll have to negotiate the Predators and possibly Sharks back-to-back, though the Predators aren’t clicking on the power play at the moment. You know what the Sharks man-advantage can do.

The Jets defense is not going to be ever be dominant. Trouba has regressed a touch, Byfuglien has only a tangental relationship with his own end. Tyler Myers just straight sucks. But it doesn’t have to be stupid. If it is, it’ll cost them just about everything.

 

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We wrap up our team previews with perhaps the class of the Central Division. There is no forward group you can love more than the Jets’. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re skilled, and when Paul Maurice finally woke up from his neanderthal nap last season and ceased to have the Jets be the dumbest team in the league and focused on merely skating every team out of their building and into the cold and unyielding Manitoba night, the Jets took off. Didn’t hurt that they finally got some goaltending, as Connor Hellebuyck finally lived up to the billing.

Sadly for the Jets, even though I will argue they were a superior team by some distance than Vegas last year, their seven-game Last Man Standing with the Preds left them softened up for the Knights. They may have outplayed Vegas in four or all five of those games, but Fleury was simply too much. It’s a fate they’ll look to avoid this time around, though it’ll most likely be an even more formidable Sharks team waiting should they escape the torture dungeon of the Central Division.

But they can do it. Let’s do it one last time before we kick this pig for real.

2017-2018: 52-20-10 114 points 277 GF 218 GA  51.5 CF% 52.7 xGF%  8.5 SH% .925 SV%

Goalies: When your goalie last year is 25 and coming off a Vezina-finalist run, there’s little reason to change much. Hellebuyck will look to back up his imperious season of last, and there’s really no reason to think he can’t back it up. His pedigree has always suggested this is what he should be, and the only fear would be fatigue. 67 games isn’ the heaviest load you’ll see, along with 17 playoff starts. He’d made 58 and 56 appearances in the seasons before though, either all in the AHL or splitting time between the bus-league and the plane-league. So it really shouldn’t be too much for him. Obviously, a lot hinges on Hellebuyck, because you can’t go anywhere with bad goaltending. The Jets know, they tried for like five seasons. Still, they’re one of the few teams in the league who can sleep pretty easy about their goaltending.

Laurent Brossoit, which is not a dessert, is going to back him up. Brossoit flashed being a competent goalie at this level in Edmonton two years ago, but with a bit more work last year he was terrible. Then again, being Cam Talbot‘s backup leads to a lot of nights staring at the lights contemplating what existence really means. Clearly, Hellebuyck’s health is paramount.

Defense: If there’s one minor complaint I would have about the Jets, is that their defense just quite isn’t there. It may improve a bit because Jacob Trouba is going to be in fuck-you-someone-will-pay-me mode all year, as he’s in the last year of his deal and previous negotiations with the Jets have been cantankerous. He’ll take on the hard stuff as usual with Josh Morrissey. Which leaves Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot to get cherry-er starts and opponents, which is a reason why Buff racks up the points he does. And yet you’ll never convince me. I know what the points say. I know what the underlying numbers say. I’ll always think Buff is just dumb and lazy enough to burn you in your own zone, and the only hits he looks for is when someone significantly smaller (which is just about everyone, to be fair) isn’t looking. And he’ll run out of position to get them. Against a fast team in a series this could be a problem, and it was something of one against Vegas but not Nashville.

The third pairing is rounded out by Dimitry Kulikov and Tyler Myers. This is where Myers should always be and Kulikov seems to take more shit than he deserves. Hmmm, wonder why that could be? Certainly not because he’s a good Ontario bo….oh, right.

Clearly, it’s not a bad unit. It’s good, even. Trouba might enter Norris discussion this year, though that would take a leap. It’s just not San Jose’s or Nashville’s. And maybe that’s fine. It was sort of last year.

Forwards: Whatever deficiencies there are are clearly made up by this group. It’s got front-line scoring in Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and his bewildered face, and Kyle Connor hinted at being that last year as well. It’s got defensive solidity in Mathieu Perrault, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp, and Brandon Tanev. Nikolai Ehlers is on the third line for fuck’s sake. Bryan Little has been underrated for so long. Jack Roslovic moves to center full-time. Kristian Vesalainen, their first-round pick last year who tore up the Finnish league at 18, joins the ranks now. It’s the best crop in the league. They’ll get you from everywhere. There’s not much more to say.

Outlook: Cup or bust, it’s that simple. As the game gets faster and teams move more and more away from asking their defensemen to do the pushing of the play, the Jets can get away with not having a blueblooded blue line. Because if they’re just getting the puck to these forwards as quickly as possible, they’re fine. More than fine. Sure, maybe some teams can throw out a top line better than the one the Jets have, though you can count them with Jason Pierre-Paul’s fingers. Maybe there are teams that can somewhat match the top six. But you can’t do that with the third line, much less the fourth. There’s just too much. Unless Hellebuyck backs up, you’ll probably find them in the West Final at worst again, But anything short of a parade on one of the three warm days Winnipeg has will be a failure.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Columbus Blue Jackets

New Jersey Devils

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia Flyers

Pittsburgh Penguins

Washington Capitals

Anaheim Ducks

Arizona Coyotes

Calgary Flames

Edmonton Oilers

L.A. Kings

San Jose Sharks

Vegas Golden Knights

Vancouver Canucks

Colorado Avalanche

Dallas Stars

Minnesota Wild

Nashville Predators

St. Louis Blues

Everything Else

The Canadian drought for a Cup goes longer. But the drought for Canadian cities with an airport had died in the first round anyway.

The Winnipeg Jets saved us from yet another flurry of stories and videos about how “NASHVILLE HAS SUCH A UNIQUE” atmosphere from Canadian writers who forgot the place existed from last spring. so we thank them for that. They also punched a variety of holes in the Pekka Rinne myth, and then watched the puck squirt through them for all the goals they would need. So we thank them for that, as well.

But in the end, they couldn’t save us from the new golden children, and we scorn them for that. And now that flurry from last spring will be replaced by a bunch of oh-so-clever headlines from pale-ass Toronto writers like, “Did You Know You Can Have Fun In Vegas?” or “Hey There’s Gambling Here!” or “Steve Simmons Gets His Ass Kicked In By Stripper.” Thank you very fucking much, Jets. We just can’t wait.

In all honesty, this has been a long time coming for the Jets, who should have been at this stage at least two years ago had they not kept trying to foist Ondrej Pavelec on the world in some elaborate prank/gaslighting to convince us all that we don’t exist. What’s that? Ondrej Pavelec? No, he’s totally real. I’m serious. He was their starter for years! Really? Yes, he probably works in a garage somewhere now smoking unfiltered cigarettes before a woman in white pants yells at him for five minutes. Oh, apparently he plays for the Rangers. Same thing.

Anyway, Pavelec or Michael “Hanging In There” Hutchinson always combined to torpedo this uber-talented Jets team year after year. They got some help from Paul Maurice of course, whose philosophy before this season was “MEAT!” The Jets routinely were the dumbest team in the league, and compounding that was they had one of the worst penalty-kills to go along with all those penalties they took as Pavelec looked like being attacked by bees in net while Dustin Byfuglien looked on with an expression on his face that said, “Can you get sick from combining Butterfingers and popcorn?”

Ah yes, Byguflien. Big Buff. DAT BIG BUCK GUY. Once again became the darling of hockey analysts everywhere because he banged in a few goals, pried multiple guys off a scrum who weren’t really doing anything anyway like he was a bouncer at a Harvard bar, and had a few guys try and check him and rebound off the creamy-nougey of his middle. You have to hand it to Buff, he’s excellent at PR because all of those things distract from the three to four times per game he would get caught ahead of the puck before it had even exited the Jets’ zone and he’d have to scramble back. Ha, Buff “scrambling.” There’s a term for you. Right up there with, “Roenick thoughts.”

Anyway, Maurice got away from that this year, as you can’t really ask any coach to take less than four fucking seasons to figure out that he has one of the most talented forward groups in recent vintage and should probably get them to play at evens and the power play as often as possible. It’s a lesson in patience, or dumb luck, as Maurice probably should have been fired two years ago but got to hang around long enough to try this experiment called, “sticking to hockey?” The pinnacle of coaching these days is basically not getting in the way when you have four lines full of skill and Jack Roslovic just waiting around.

And yet it wasn’t quite enough. Maybe it would have been if Patrik Laine’s 1000-yard stare and misplaced beard from the Amish grandmother in Kingpin had been anything more than a passenger for most of the playoffs. Hey Patrik, you’re allowed to do more than wait around for a one-timer. What is it about guys named Patrick? Laine could spend the summer under whatever bridge in Finland he lives going over film of various Knights knocking him off the puck, except there isn’t enough time before training camp.

The Jets might think they’ll be here every year, but the bills are coming due. Trouba, Connor, and Laine are all do extensions in the next year, and Trouba has already tried to escape once. And maybe Blake Wheeler wants to ply his trade somewhere that doesn’t require travel by tauntaun. Paul Stastny says he wants to say and that his family is all for it, proving that either Paul Stastny is drugging his family or literally anywhere is better than St. Louis even when you’re from there.

So this might have been the Jets chance. A first-year team in their way before a chance to play for the Cup. You can’t ask for more…and then Byfuglien skated right by it. Meanwhile, the “loudest building in the league” sounded like a Joni Mitchell soundcheck for the last 40 minutes. You guys want to chip in and maybe inspire? No? Ok cool, go whatever it is you do in Winnipeg for the summer then, which I assume is a whole lot of log-rolling and trying to hit each other with rocks. Oh, and reading Hawks fanfic about trading Toews back there, because that’s something our most unwashed dream about. And in the coming seasons we can get more video packages about the “rivalry” between the Jets and Oilers from the past, where all the old Jets talk about how much they hated the Oilers and Gretzky and Messier respond to questions about it with, “I’m sorry, who?”

It could have been more. It probably should have been. But hey, you’re Canadian. Only so much can be expected. As always, the real cities will take home the real baubles now.