The sky is caving in on the Winnipeg Jets. They have a record of 2-6-2 in their last 10 games, they’ve given up at least five goals in four of those losses, and the offence has continued to be a shell of its former self.
Is this season over? According to Moneypuck.com’s playoff odds, they currently have a 19.2 percent chance to make the playoffs. They’ll have a chance to go on a winning streak when they start a stretch of 40 games in 81 days after the All-Star Game, but it could not have come at a worse time as they are currently playing their worst hockey of the season.
Mark Scheifele has not been playing at the typical elite level that he has shown the past five seasons. He is far from the only problem on the team, but he needs to be better if the Jets want to salvage this season and make their playoff push interesting.
Scheifele Stands Out Amidst Losing Streak
The Jets have lost seven of their last eight contests. During that losing streak, Scheifele has recorded only one goal, five assists, and has a plus/minus of minus-6. He’s averaging 21:20 of ice time throughout this season, and his production hasn’t been good enough to warrant that usage. The top line of Scheifele, Andrew Copp and Blake Wheeler has combined for four goals over the past eight games, but the offensive production is far from their biggest issue.
In 36 games played, he has recorded 29 points. That scoring pace is a step down for Scheifele and how he’s played the last five seasons, but it is still good enough to warrant top-six and power-play usage. He’s still a gifted player offensively — he just hasn’t been good enough to what Jets fans are accustomed to. He’s currently on pace to have a career-low in plus/minus, while currently sitting at minus-12. Plus/minus is a statistic that should be taken lightly, but his plus/minus used to be consistently around the plus-15 mark, so a 30-point swing is worth noting.
All these statistics have one underlying theme — they are underwhelming. Not only are they all extremely low to what Scheifele’s production usually resembles, but they are low for a centre that was once widely regarded as a top-10 centre in the NHL. He’s 28 years old, so this isn’t a question of whether or not he’s slowing down due to age. The biggest issue for Scheifele looks to be in his head. Ever since his four-game suspension for the hit on Jake Evans in Round 1 of the 2021 Playoffs, he has played in the shadow of the Jets’ new number one centre, Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Scheifele’s Struggles Epitomize the Jets’ Issues
The team is just barely passing offensively while struggling defensively. In the final 3:27 of a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues, Scheifele was benched due to multiple giveaways late that almost cost his team the win. He has lacked effort and looked disinterested — not what you would expect from one of the Jets’ assistant captains and a cornerstone piece of the franchise.
Scheifele is just one part of a bigger issue. The team has struggled to keep the puck out of the net while the defence has suffered multiple COVID issues and injuries.
The Jets are not the only team suffering through injuries and COVID complications. Through adversity, a team’s best players have to be the best players, and Scheifele has been far from that. According to Moneypuck.com, at 5-on-5, the top line of Copp, Scheifele and Wheeler has been outscored 2-5 and gives up 4.11 expected goals against per 60, while only generating 2.09. They are getting outscored by double and getting out-chanced by double the amount they are generating. This line is the key to the Jets having a chance to turn their season around and possibly earn a playoff berth.
Scheifele has three years remaining on his contract and is not going anywhere in the near future. With the emergence of Dubois as a true No. 1 centre, the Jets will have to bank on Scheifele returning to form, which would give them the one-two punch at centre that they envisioned last season. If that fails to happen, he may request a trade or be let go before his contract expires, which would be a disappointing ending to what was an elite career he had with the Jets.
But the Jets aren’t thinking about that right now. Before they figure out their future, they need to figure out the present. They currently sit nine points out of a playoff spot, while needing to leapfrog five teams in the process. They will need some help if they want to sneak into a wildcard spot, but it starts with themselves getting healthy and hot at the right time, and more importantly, Scheifele returning to form.