Look, we all know that the Winnipeg Jets are going to be good soon. They have a deep prospect pool, an elite centerman, a world-class winger and a solid blue line. But the Jets had a disappointing 2016-17 season, missing the playoffs by seven points. With a young team a year older, boosted with a few additional players, could we possibly be seeing the Sea of White return in 2018? Let’s investigate.
Mason the Man in Net
The Winnipeg Jets elected to replace the inconsistencies of Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck with free-agent signing Steve Mason. Hellebuyck struggled last season to a .907 save percentage in his first season as the starter in Winnipeg, so logically the Jets needed to decide if the young goaltender was ready for starting minutes. The signing of Steve Mason gives them a brilliant option to shelter Hellebuyck this coming season.
Mason proved in Philadelphia that he is a capable goalie, posting strong numbers over his five-year stint with the Flyers. This move also gives the Jets a strong goalie tandem of Mason and Hellebuyck that a lot of teams in the NHL would crave. The Jets have improved their goaltending this summer and this was the area that needed the most attention.
Kulikov: A Not-So-Cool Signing
Most Jets fans will agree that signing Mason was good business, with only a two-year term and a $4.1 million cap hit. But I think hockey fans across the world were questioning the Jets’ decision to offer Dmitry Kulikov $4.33 million per year over three seasons.
Kulikov came off his worst=ever season in the NHL heading into free agency this summer, posting dreadful offensive numbers (two goals and five points). If his point totals were not bad enough, Kulikov had dreadful possession numbers of just 44.7 percent and this was generally against other teams’ third and fourth lines. Ouch!
Some gross money being handed out. Bonino, Kulikov and Mason paid as if they just had great years. Yikes.
— Matt Larkin (@THNMattLarkin) July 1, 2017
The Fantastic Four
Jacob Trouba, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers are four players who give the Jets every reason to be optimistic for the 2017-18 season. Sure, the division is hard. Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, and Nashville all finished miles ahead of the Jets last season. But the Jets will close that gap this season, and their end-of-season record last year proves how far this team has come. They finished 12-5-1 last season through March and April, and that included seven victories against playoff teams.
Trouba offers the Jets an offensive D-man capable of logging hard minute and scoring points along the way. Trouba is entering his fifth season as a Jet and it is hard to look past the Michigan man breaking the 40-point plateau if he plays every game this season.
Laine came second in Calder voting this past season, and the number-two pick of the 2016 draft proved himself to be one of the most deadly snipers the Jets franchise has ever seen. Laine bagged himself 36 goals and would most certainly have run Auston Matthews closer in Calder voting if he had managed to play the whole season. That being said, Laine will be better next season and that will be frightening for any team playing the Jets.
Scheifele has 227 points in 306 career games and has proven during his short career that he is a top-line centerman capable of contributing offensively and defensively. Last season, Scheifele managed to contribute 82 points in 79 games, and a point return like that next season will guarantee the Jets a shot at playing in May.
Ehlers shot up in scoring last year from a 38-point season in 2015-16 to a 64-point season in 2016-17. Can he make another jump and head towards 80 points? It is more than possible. If the Jets go with a Laine-Schiefele-Ehlers first line, then boy oh boy, that will be goals, goals, goals.
Mason gives the Jets a chance to compete. They have a solid defensive core which will only get better playing in front of Mason. I really like the signing of Mason, as he offers experience and a teaching hand to the franchise’s future goalie, Hellebuyck.
The blue line is decent. Byfuglien gives Winnipeg a personality. Trouba is an elite-level defenseman. Morrissey could make the step to being a top defenseman next season, his numbers last year being really good for a rookie defenseman. Kulikov is an interesting choice, but I am reserving judgment until I see him wearing the Jets uniform.
The offensive side of things looks really good for Winnipeg. Laine, Ehlers, and Schiefele will always give the Jets a chance to win. Behind them, the team will have Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault, and Bryan Little, who are all exciting players. The Jets too could see breakout seasons from Adam Lowry, Kyle Connor, and new signing Michael Sgarbossa.
Can the new additions, the extra experience, and improvement of their current players mean the Jets can look at being a playoff team next season? I think the evidence suggests they can. The young players they have need to experience some playoff games, so it is imperative that the Jets get to play some hockey in May.
The Hockey Writers is:
1) A top-tier hockey media company delivering a top-notch, in-depth look at the NHL
2) A collective of some of the best hockey writers anywhere
3) A multimedia provider with daily podcasts and YouTube shows
4) Well-respected and widely-cited NHL prospect and draft resource