The Winnipeg Jets did not make the playoffs this season, which was a disappointment considering they came into the 2021-22 campaign considered by many to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
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There will be no Whiteout in Winnipeg this year — other than the one that came in mid-April in the form of a historic spring snowstorm — as a flurry of flaws buried the Jets’ chances of competing for Lord Stanley’s Mug.
Despite that, Jets fans shouldn’t shut off their TVs or stop checking the scores on their phones during the postseason. Since every fan of a non-playoff team needs a bandwagon to jump on, here’s three teams Jets fans can root for.
1) Calgary Flames
Canadians stick together, and many fans of any given Canadian team latch on to other teams still in it from the Great White North when theirs is eliminated.
This author would never suggest a Jets fan cheer for the Edmonton Oilers, given how thoroughly Wayne Gretzky and company dominated the NHL Jets 1.0 in the playoffs throughout the 1980s. The teams faced in six separate playoff series during the Jets’ 1.0 era and the Oilers won them all.
This author would also never suggest a Jets fan cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As the old joke goes, Torontonians think Toronto is the centre of the universe and many NHL fans hate the Maple Leafs like MLB fans hate the New York Yankees (full disclosure, the Jets 1.0 left Winnipeg when the author was two years old and he cheered for the Leafs throughout his childhood and teens, but is reformed now.)
Related: Top 5 Jets 1.0 Draft Picks of All Time
That leaves the Flames as the only viable Canadian team for Jets fans to latch on to. They are poised to make some serious noise in the postseason as they finished first in the Pacific Division.
They’re a highly-skilled but also hard-working club led by Johnny Gaudreau — who reached the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career — and Matthew Tkachuk, son of longtime Jet Keith Tkachuk.
The Flames have a few more connections to Manitoba: Michael Stone, a Winnipegger, is on their roster, and Christopher Tanev played for the original Manitoba Moose in 2010-11.
Jets fans can watch the Flames as an example of what the Jets could be if they had better and more creative coaching, instead of the stale ideas the now-departed Paul Maurice had, ideas still held by his predecessor Dave Lowry.
The Flames underachieved despite being talented on paper through most of the late 2010s before firing Geoff Ward and bringing the experienced and intelligent Darryl Sutter on board during the shortened 2020-21 season.
While Sutter could not reverse the Flames’ fortunes enough to get them into the Canadian Division dance, this season, they’ve reached new heights with him behind the bench. They wouldn’t have reached those heights with the type of coaching the Jets have currently.
2) Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes market themselves as “the most fun team in hockey” and it’s easy to understand why. From a pure entertainment standpoint, they’re a compelling team for Jets fans to cheer for.
The Hurricanes, of “Storm Surge” fame, put on a great show for their fans from both game-day experience and on-ice results perspectives. Under head coach Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes have transformed from a sad-sack squad to a perennial Metropolitan Division contender. They finished first this season.
Led by offensive dynamos Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov and backstopped by resurgent goaltender Frederik Andersen — who became Maple Leafs’ fans’ favourite scapegoat but was next-level this season — the Hurricanes are speedy, skilled, and electric.
When they’re clicking, they’re an absolute treat to watch,” The Hockey Writers’ Hurricanes contributor Brandon Stanley told the author.
“From the skill of guys like Svechnikov, Martin Necas, and Aho, to the workmanlike consistency of Jordan Staal, Nino Niederreiter, and Jesper Fast, or under-appreciated excellence of Brett Pesce, Teuvo Teravainen, and Jaccob Slavin, there are numerous players throughout the roster that can be taken to, no matter what style of play you most enjoy,” Stanley continued. “With a skilled offence, stout defense, and potential redemption story between the pipes, plus one of the most-respected presences in the game behind the bench in Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes are a team I expect many fans of non-playoff teams to get behind.”THW’s Brandon Stanley on the Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes also have three Manitobans on their roster if Jets fans want to root for guys from their home province: the recently-acquired Max Domi and rookie centre Seth Jarvis are both from Winnipeg, while defenseman Jordan Martinook is from Brandon.
Carolina is a “non-traditional” hockey market, but “non-traditional” doesn’t mean “bad.” This team is not the Arizona Coyotes — they have great fans and a great team that both deserve respect.
3) New York Rangers
Cheering for the Flames or Hurricanes is all well and good, but Jets’ fans should be rooting for the Rangers — who finished second in the Metropolitan behind the ‘Canes — most of all (at least for the first two rounds.)
If the Rangers make the Eastern Conference Final, and Andrew Copp — who the Jets traded to the Big Apple at the Trade Deadline — plays in at least half of the Rangers’ games in the first two rounds, the 2022 second round pick the Rangers sent as part of the return package turns into a 2022 first-rounder.
Copp is a highly likeable player who became a fan favourite in Winnipeg over eight seasons and 467 games for the Jets. Fans watched him blossom from a defensive specialist into a legitimate and versatile top-six threat who never forgot about his responsibilities without the puck. A dedicated player such as he is well-deserving of a Stanley Cup.
Copp isn’t the only former Jet on the Rangers, of course. Jacob Trouba, who was drafted by the Jets and played six seasons for them, is one of the Rangers’ top-four defensemen, but he’s a lot harder to root for.
Trouba carried an overall disdain for Winnipeg as a city and was difficult for the organization to deal with off the ice. He held out in 2016, took the team to arbitration in 2018, and was a distraction as a pending UFA all through 2018-19 before finally being traded.
Lastly, the Rangers also have a Winnipegger on their roster in Ryan Reaves. The hulking right-winger — a polarizing figure due to his on-the-edge-and-sometimes-over-it play style — is the son of Willard Reaves, who was a star running back for the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 1980s and helped the team win the 72nd Grey Cup in 1984.
The elder Reaves is still a big part of the community, which may make rooting for his son a little easier. Earlier this year, Willard ran for MLA in the Winnipeg riding of Whyte Ridge by-election under the Liberal banner and came in a close second to another former Winnipeg Blue Bomber, Obby Khan.
If you’re a Jets fan, which team — if any — are you rooting for in the playoffs? Comment below!