3 Jets’ Storylines to Follow Heading Into 2022-23

There have been a number of interesting stories for WInnipeg Jets fans to follow this offseason. There are several more that will draw everyone’s eyes at the beginning of and throughout the 2022-23 campaign. Here are three of the big ones.

How The New Coaching Staff Fares

The Jets pegged Rick Bowness as the bench boss after Barry Trotz decided not to immediately jump back into coaching. After Bowness was announced in early July, Scott Arniel was announcer as associate coach and Marty Johnston and Brad Lauer as assistant coaches.

Rick Bowness Dallas Stars
Rick Bowness has been pegged to turn the Jets around. How will he fare? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This represents a total revamp. Paul Maurice began 2021-22 as head coach with Dave Lowry, Charlie Huddy, and Jamie Kompon as assistants, but they were unable to get the most out of a team that was — at least on paper — a Stanley Cup contender. Maurice resigned in December, saying he’d taken the team as far as it could go in nine seasons and that they needed a new voice.

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Lowry took over but proved no more capable at getting his charges to play to their potential as the team finished sixth in the Central Division and well out of the playoff picture. Lowry was not renewed and became an assistant coach with the Seattle Kraken; Huddy and Jamie Kompon were also not renewed.

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has decided to “run it back” in 2022-23. He hasn’t make any major additions to his roster since free agency opened, only tinkering with the addition of AHL depth players and a new backup goalie.

Related: Jets’ Central Division Foes Have Had Busy Offseasons

Cheveldayoff’s gamble puts big-time pressure on Bowness and company; the GM is banking that the new coaching staff’s fresh outlooks and strategies will breathe new life into the same team that continually and drastically underperformed just a year ago.

Kevin Cheveldayoff Winnipeg Jets
Kevin Cheveldayoff is banking on Bowness to help the Jets get back to contending. The GM didn’t make any major moves this offseason to improve the roster. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Bowness, 67 years old and with than 700 games of head coaching experience over four decades under his belt, is known for preaching a defense-first mentality and being hard to play against. He has a massive challenge ahead of him to stabilize a team in turmoil, sort out the egos that have fractured the locker room, and convince certain players to give more effort when they don’t have the puck.

Bowness, along with Arniel — who has more than two decades of coaching experience himself and a connection to Bowness from the Jets’ 1.0 days — former Manitoba Moose assistant Johnston, and former Edmonton Oil Kings’ head coach and 2022 WHL Champion Lauer may not end up being able to turn around a franchise that has regressed in a lot of ways. The biggest story will be their attempt to try.

The Blue-Line Logjam

The Jets have a surplus of defencemen and a number of hopefuls will jockey for one available position.

Veterans Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon, Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, and Nate Schmidt are locks. There was some speculation Dillon would be traded this offseason to free up some cap space and another slot for a younger player, but that didn’t happen.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ 3 Worst Contracts for 2022-23

Training-camp competition will be hot and the question is who will win the open spot. It could be Ville Heinola, the slick Finn considered the Jets’ best defensive prospect. The now 21-year-old has played 25 NHL games, and a case could be made that number would be much higher if not for Maurice’s veteran bias. Heinola’s upside is huge and his skillset screams “modern top-four defenseman,” even if he’s struggled at times.

It could also be Dylan Samberg, the 23-year-old who made his NHL debut last season and looked comfortable and confident in 15 games. Originally selected in 2017, Samberg’s arrival has been long-awaited.

Meanwhile, Logan Stanley will be looming. The towering specimen played 58 games last season but was scratched at times down the stretch; his goal will be to regain his role as a regular. Declan Chisholm, Jonathan Kovacevic, Leon Gawanke will all be in the mix as well.

THW’s own Connor Hrabchak, earlier this month, expressed concern about how old the Jets’ current defensive prospects will be when the core players’ contracts are up.

“The Jets currently have five defencemen under contract through the end of the 2023-24 season and three under contract for another season after that,” he wrote. “By the time those contracts expire, these young defencemen will have had their development stunted because of their lack of minutes against top competition. They will continue to dominate the AHL similar to how they are now, but they’ll never get a chance to expand their skills against higher competition. No matter what strategy a team tries to follow when developing prospects, waiting until they are 25 to move them into the NHL is not one of them.”

The Jets’ defence, last season, was tied for third-most high-danger chances against in the NHL with 849 and often allowed opponents unfettered net front access. If they struggle again under Bowness, a move to inject more youth should certainly be explored.

Kyle Connor’s 50-Goal/100-Point Pursuits

Kyle Connor had a superb and historic 2021-22, but fell painfully short of a couple of milestones. While he set new Jets 2.0 records in goals and points with 47 and 93, each figure was slightly shy of the plateaus that indicate total dominance.

The sniper had only four penalty minutes and won the Lady Byng in a shoo-in, and was on pace in late March to reach both 50 goals and 100 points. Unfortunately, an asymptomatic positive COVID-19 test — a test required only because the Canadian government mandated anyone traveling from the U.S. to Canada (the Jets were going from from Buffalo to Toronto) to test negative — caused him to miss three games and his chances were pretty much nil after that.

With a number of Jets being high-maintenance last season — such as the declining captain Blake Wheeler and the disgruntled Mark Scheifele — watching Connor quietly go about his business was a breath of fresh air amid the thick fog of frustration.

Related: 3 Jets Who Will Be Under the Microscope for 2022-23

Connor’s production — and whether 2022-23 will be the season he becomes the first Jet to reach one of these prestigious plateaus — will be fun to watch. Reaching either would mean the still-underrated Connor could no longer be ignored by the league as a whole.

Check out more of THW’s Jets’ 2022-23 season preview content below.

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