Coming off the back of a season in which they reached the postseason for the first time since the franchise returned to Winnipeg, the Jets will be looking to try and build on last year and continue to establish themselves as a force in the NHL. While their return to the playoffs was a fleeting one, losing 4-0 to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference first round, reaching the postseason was evidence that there is enough talent on this Jets roster to give Winnipeg fans belief they can again make it into the postseason.
While the Jets will start the new season priced at around 18/1 to top the Western Conference with 32Red Canada, Betway and other online sportsbooks, head coach Paul Maurice will be quietly confident he has the players to upset the odds this year. Without any injury problems as they close in on the start of the regular season, the Jets could be one of the dark horses over the course of the new campaign, although there are a number of questions that need answering if we’re going to be able to call Winnipeg genuine contenders in 2015/16.
Which Pavelec will turn up this season?
Having produced below-par performances for the majority of his time with the Jets, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec enjoyed the best season of his career last year, playing a major role in the franchise reaching the playoffs. Having stuck with Pavelec throughout some tough times over the course of his time in the NHL, the Czech star’s impressive run of form last year was a reward for the Winnipeg management. The question is now whether he can replicate his level of performance from last season or if he reverts to his inconsistent and unreliable form from previous years. If he can, the Jets have a goaltender who can do a very good job. If he can’t, the Jets will need to look to Michael Hutchinson or even recall rookie Connor Hellebuyck from his affiliate move.
Can the Jets convince Ladd and Byfuglien to stay?
It certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed that both Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien will be unrestricted free agents next summer. While both have made it known they aren’t actively looking to leave Winnipeg, it’s no secret than anything other than a promising start to the new season could leave them facing an uphill battle to convince either player to commit themselves to the franchise. In their top-scoring forward and lead defenseman from last year, both players are at the top of their game and rightfully on the radar of a host of rival NHL teams.
While team captain Ladd seems close to agreeing a new deal, it looks as though Byfuglien’s future could be far from being certain. A useful player to have at your disposal when it comes to the trade, even though the Jets have good defensive depth, none of their blueliners have been able to make an impact similar to Byfuglien, and Winnipeg could do worse than tie him down to a fresh contract. The 30-year-old has established himself as a fan favourite in Winnipeg over the past four seasons, and it would be a real job for the Jets to replace him.
Will the youth step up?
It’s fair to say that the Jets weren’t one of the busier NHL franchises in the summer in terms of recruitment, and this will have definitely played a part in the likes of 32Red and other bookies given them fairly long odds this season. Aside from re-signing Drew Stafford and snapping up Alex Burmistrov from the KHL, it wasn’t an offseason of wholesale changes which have happened over the franchise’s history. The quieter summer suggests the Jets have a certain degree of confidence in the younger players on the roster, and we could be set to see a breakthrough year for one or two of those rookies.
Experienced youngster Mark Scheifele, Adam Lowry and Jacob Trouba, alongside rookies Nikolaj Ehlers, Andrew Copp and Nic Petan, mean there are six players under the age of 23 on this Winnipeg roster – many of whom could now have key roles to play this year. While this is an exciting prospect for Jets fans who always like seeing a player come through the ranks, the team’s management will know there is a lot of uncertainty about throwing in so many untested rookies at the same time.