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