3 Areas the Jets Need to Address to Get Back to the Postseason

Change is afoot in Winnipeg, and it needs to be. After missing the playoffs for the first time in five years, the new goal for the Winnipeg Jets is to make their way back to the postseason. What’s compelling about this is they will attempt this with virtually the same roster they had last season. No wait, they’re not quite as strong due to losing the services of Andrew Copp, Paul Stastny, Evgeny Svechnikov and goaltender Eric Comrie. The bad news is Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was either unable or unwilling to make any significant moves to replace them in the offseason. The good news is he hired a new head coach in Rick Bowness, that has only promised one thing…change.

Winnipeg Jets Celebrate
Winnipeg Jets Celebrate (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So, by putting all the needed changes into one proverbial basket, Cheveldayoff is counting solely on the new coaching staff to fix the mess left in the wake of former head coach Paul Maurice. For the Jets to repair the damage from last season and play like the team pundits predicted a year ago, here are three areas they need to rectify as they head into training camp.

Jets Need to Find a Third Line

With the likes of Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, the Jets have a couple of point-per-game scorers who can consistently put the puck in the net. Over the course of his career, Scheifele has shown he can pretty much score a point-per-game with his eyes closed. Add Pierre-Luc Dubois, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers to that list, and the scoring options for the Jets are as good as any team’s top five. However, this is where the depth drops off significantly.

Related: Jets Sign Gagner but Fail to Address Needs Up Front

The Jets have a discernible problem within the forward position group, and the former coach accentuated the issue. Last year, they played with only two lines that were a consistent threat. The third was their checking line, and the fourth line barely played; an unfortunate legacy of the Maurice era. His plan for the forwards seemed to be, “I’m going to put the best three players on the first line, then the next three best on the second line…” and so on. Under Bowness, expect to see the forwards shuffled so that experience and youth are interspersed and spread over three lines to expand the scoring depth from six players to nine.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets Head Coach
Rick Bowness, Winnipeg Jets Head Coach (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

For example, last year, the Jets implemented a line of Dubois, Connor and Svechnikov on more than one occasion, and it worked well. A solid combination of two scorers with a bottom-six forward who complemented each other well and created opportunities. Then, inexplicably, Svechnikov was exiled to the fourth line, where he was limited to three or four minutes of ice time.

The Jets have a number of young forwards who can fill the bottom six of the roster. However, even the highly touted Cole Perfetti is not ready to be an impact player and carry a forward line on his own. He needs leadership and experience by his side to maximize his production. The Minnesota Wild did this with 21-year-old rookie Matt Boldy last season. They called him up from the minors in January and immediately inserted him on a line with high-scoring Kevin Fiala and Freddy Gaudreau, and it worked like a charm. He put up 39 points in 47 games and stayed on that line for the remainder of the season. That scenario would have never happened under Maurice, as he rarely gave young prospects a full opportunity to contribute.

The Jets Need to Execute the Game Plan

There are two pieces to the puzzle here: individual accountability and team defense. For the Jets, neither has been very good of late. Bowness brings a new focus to the word responsibility. He’s a black-and-white kind of coach who sets expectations and has consequences when they’re not met. Under the former regime, that got lost somewhere. The truth is some players simply weren’t being held accountable for their actions, while others were banished to the end of the bench. It was an inequitable system, and it was obvious. That will change this season.

The only thing the players have to do is accept the change and execute the game plan. According to an interview Scheifele did in August, he’s looking forward to the change and fresh start ahead for the team. When the rest of the Jets jump on board, I think you’re going to see a very different-looking squad this fall.

Mark Scheifele Winnipeg Jets
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The players have to buy into the new system. The good news is they have acknowledged that the old one didn’t work. As Wheeler said in April, “I hate what’s going on right now. I hate losing. That’s not just me, we have a lot of guys who don’t like losing and don’t like the results that we’re getting.”

Jets Need Some New Leadership

In a bold and unexpected move last week, Bowness stripped Wheeler of the captaincy and announced the team will restructure its leadership group. The plan is to enter this season with a group of alternate captains instead of the traditional captain and two alternates.

Related: Jets’ Season Could Be Doomed by Cheveldayoff’s Quiet Summer

The move to shift the power dynamic basically sent two messages. First, there is a new sheriff in town, and he will change how things were done in the past. Second, it’s time for the locker room to hear another voice, or in this case, other voices. Maurice made it known he had little to do in the dressing room. He metaphorically gave Wheeler the keys to the car and said let me know when you get home. Grown men don’t need supervision, but the coach is responsible for the team on and off the ice. Maurice failed miserably at this and was one of the reasons he got frustrated with them and quit.

If things don’t change, how can you expect results to change? The Jets have a small window of opportunity to win with this group. Many of their big-name players become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2024. To maximize the talent in the room, someone other than Wheeler and Scheifele will have to step up and be heard. Bowness is looking for leadership by committee, and if the Jets are going to resurrect themselves, this needs to happen as soon as possible. He has obviously committed to changing the dynamic of this club.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Expect some of the leadership roles to fall on the shoulders of Josh Morrissey. The Jets’ best defenseman is coming off a bounceback year where he reestablished himself as the team’s number one blueliner. He is also well respected by his teammates, and it’s important to note he has signed a long-term deal that doesn’t expire until the end of the 2027-28 season.

The Jets Can Make the Playoffs

There’s no doubt in my mind the Jets can make the playoffs this season. It’s pretty much the same roster that was touted to make a deep playoff run last year. However, changes need to happen, and if changing the roster wasn’t in the cards, this offseason, then a change has to come from somewhere.

Bowness and his staff have certainly taken it upon themselves to initiate change. The change in leadership was a start and sets the tone for everyone, but it can’t stop there. Attitudes need to change in terms of individual responsibility towards the team as they implement a new style of play. There needs to be a change in the forward rotation to allow some young prospects into the fold with an opportunity to contribute. There simply needs to be a shift away from the Maurice era to something fresh and new. They have the roster to make the playoffs, so let’s see if the changes and fresh start can bring the anticipated results.

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