With just two games left in the schedule, the Winnipeg Jets once again find themselves on the outside looking in. With the playoffs no longer an option, the Jets have now won five straight games.
The season wasn’t a complete loss. Lots of good came out of it, including Mark Scheifele cementing himself as an elite center, Patrik Laine taking the NHL by storm, and young guys like Nikolaj Ehlers, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey having outstanding years as well.
The fact remains that The Hockey News’ 2019 Stanley Cup champion pick remains at least one season from making the playoffs. It’s frustrating for the players, the management and the fans. It may sound like a broken record, but this team is young and will only get better. The playoffs aren’t far away, as long as the team fixes the issues that have plagued it year after year. Here are four reasons (non-inclusive) that the Jets missed the playoffs this year.
I’m a big fan of Connor Hellebuyck, but the numbers don’t lie. Hellebuyck was not good this season and the Jets suffered because of it.
Hellebuyck is ranked 40th in save percentage and 39th in goals-against average out of goalies who have played 25 or more games. His .916 save percentage at even strength still put him 38th in the league and while his team was killing a penalty, he ranked 36th, a full .069 percent behind the league leader. That translates to 15 goals that could have been stopped, which, on its own, brings his save percentage closer to .911.
That is a lot of numbers, but they all say the same thing. In a league with 30 teams, Hellebuyck wasn’t good enough to even be the backup on at least eight other teams. The problem for the Jets is that he was by far the best goaltender on the team. Both Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec had chances to take over the starting role, but both performed poorly, handing the job back to Hellebuyck.
Paul Maurice and Kevin Cheveldayoff seem to be sticking with the draft and develop plan, which likely means the crease is still Hellebuyck’s come next season. A league average save percentage from Hellebuyck this season would have brought his goals per game average down to 2.62. The Jets are averaging three goals per game so far. A few extra wins this season and suddenly, the Jets are a playoff team.
Injuries to the Defence
Players get hurt all the time. Players and coaches will never use them as an excuse for poor play or for missing the playoffs. The fact is, though, injuries can completely change the face of a team. This was the case for the Jets.
Up until March 18, there were five different teams that had lost four defenceman at the same time. The Edmonton Oilers went the longest, going three games without four of their defencemen.
The Jets were missing five of their defencemen for a ten game stretch during March. Tyler Myers has been out for most of the season, while Tobias Enstrom had sat for a while as well before announcing season-ending surgery. Ben Chiarot and Paul Postma are also out, with Postma also getting shut down for the season.
A major knock on the Jets has been their defensive depth, which was tested with players like Nelson Nogier, Brian Strait and Julian Melchiori being called up. But while you would love to see a bit more depth on the blue line, needing five replacement players at the same time is rarely something a team needs to account for.
Could the defence be better? Even with all their players healthy, the Jets still need another top-four left-handed defenceman to really solidify the back-end. However, you cannot talk about the depth of the Jets blue line without talking about the absurd amount of injuries they have had to deal with. A healthy defence could be the determining factor in turning this team into a playoff team.
Bad Special Teams
One of the biggest issues that has plagued the Jets since they returned to Winnipeg has been penalties. They consistently take the most penalties in the league and then have poor penalty killing to back it up.
Even when they have fixed the penalty killing or the number of penalties taken, the other one suffers. Since Paul Maurice took over the Jets, they have always finished in the top four in penalties taken. Of the nine other teams in the top ten for penalties taken, only three have a penalty kill percentage under 80; the Jets, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Arizona Coyotes, all non-playoff teams. On average, they have finished 21st in the league on the penalty kill over the past six years.
With all the offensive firepower the Jets have, the power play is also below average. They rank 22nd in the league and have had the third most opportunities. With players like Laine, Scheifele, and Ehlers, they should be converting a lot more. However, Blake Wheeler is the only Jets player in the top 50 for power play points. Laine is 24th for power play goals.
In both instances, a lot of the blame has fallen on the coach. Most of that has come down to personnel decisions, mainly playing Adam Lowry and moving Laine to the second unit. Another part is systems and strategies that are not working. Improved special teams would greatly increase the Jets chances of making the playoffs.
Not Enough Experience
There are no real numbers to quantify this and it’s not always the case. The Toronto Maple Leafs are doing just fine with an incredibly young team (along with a Hall-of-Fame coach).
However, the fact is the Jets are one of the youngest teams in the league and the eye-test seems to agree. They are fast and fun to watch, but also full of mistakes. This has a lot to do with experience. Young forwards need to figure out when fancy plays can be made and when a simple one should be made instead. The young defenders are learning how to handle the bigger and more skilled forwards they are facing on a day-to-day basis.
The chemistry is there. The offense isn’t an issue, as the Jets are one of just two teams to have at least four players with 60 points or more. All that’s left is the experience and that is slowly coming as well.
*all stats as of April 3*