The Winnipeg Jets have exceeded everyone’s expectations so far in 2022-23. They missed the playoffs a season ago, and are now in the race for first place in the Central Divison. The unexpected has seemingly happened.
Josh Morrissey is a Norris Trophy candidate, Pierre-Luc Dubois is on pace for his best season as a pro, and Connor Hellebuyck is once again in the Vezina Trophy race. Despite battling major injuries to Nikolaj Ehlers and Mason Appleton, the Jets have managed to be amongst the league’s best teams.
After stumbling into the All-Star Break, all eyes will be on how well they respond to yet another test of adversity. The second half of their season resumes on Feb. 11 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Now is a good time to make a few predictions for the year’s second half, as they are in the midst of one of their most successful seasons in franchise history.
Mark Scheifele Hits the 50-Goal Plateau
Mark Scheifele has been outstanding for the Jets this season, as his 31 goals are seven more than the next-highest on the team. That puts him on pace to finish the season with 49 goals, which would shatter his previous career-high of 38, which he obtained in 2018-19.
He scored two goals in the final game before the break against the St. Louis Blues, one of which tied the game up halfway through the third period. According to Money Puck, Scheifele, Cole Perfetti, and Blake Wheeler’s line have outscored their opponents 15-5 at even strength. This line was split up during the most recent homestand, but it would be wise for head coach Rick Bowness to reconnect them coming out of the break.
Scheifele is shooting a staggering 22.8 percent (S%) this season. He has only shot higher than 20 percent once in his career, and that came back in 2016-17. This stat can be used as a sign of regression, as his career average is 16.8 percent. It can also speak to how well he is playing, as being paired with a pure playmaker like Perfetti has put him in better positions to score. With this in mind, I think he eclipses the ever-elusive 50-goal mark before the end of the season.
Jets Make a Big Splash at the Trade Deadline
This is the perfect time for the Jets to go all in. With key players such as Dubois, Scheifele, and Hellebuyck’s contracts expiring in the next two seasons, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to take advantage of the current core before the window closes.
Related: Jets Cannot Win the Stanley Cup Without a Couple of Trades
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Many names have been discussed league-wide, such as Timo Meier, Jakob Chychrun, Jonathan Toews, and Max Domi. Whether it’s a top-six forward or a top-four defenceman, I suspect the Jets will make a big move at this year’s trade deadline in order to maximize the current core’s potential.
Meier is the number one player on Daily Faceoff’s trade board list and fills plenty of holes within the Jets roster. He’s an elite top-six winger that currently has 48 points through 51 games for the San Jose Sharks and is under team control for another season after this one.
A trade of this magnitude would put the Jets firmly into contention for the Stanley Cup. His $10 million qualifying offer looms over a potential extension, but with the season he is having, it would be worth it. This would mean moving out future assets such as Chaz Lucius, Rutger McGroarty, and Brad Lambert, who would all be on the table in a potential deal.
Young defenders such as Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, and American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Declan Chisholm may interest the Sharks, who are thin on the back end outside of Erik Karlsson. Things can change over the next three weeks, but the Jets seem primed to make a big push for Meier or another major asset come trade deadline day.
Josh Morrissey Finishes Top Three in Norris Trophy Voting
Morrissey is having far and away the best season of his career, and it’s one that came out of nowhere. He was rewarded for his year up until this point by being named to his first-ever All-Star Game. Due to how important he is to the success of the franchise, I believe he will finish top three in voting for the Norris Trophy when the season comes to a close.
His goal against the Blues on Jan. 30 started a huge comeback and inspired plenty of chatter regarding the potential of him being the next captain of the franchise.
This was a defence core that struggled last season and found themselves relying on Hellebuyck far too often. With the improvement of Morrissey, they are getting the most out of a group that is largely the same as a year ago. Bowness preached getting offence from his defencemen, and they are doing just that.
The defence chipping in offensively has silenced some doubt surrounding the bottom-six’s ability to produce, and they will have to keep that going over the second half of the season.
Getting Back on Track After Losing Skid
With 11 days in between games, this was a great opportunity for the Jets to reset and recharge for the second half of the 2022-23 season. Whether or not they receive help at the trade deadline remains to be seen, but they have a tough schedule over the remainder of February.
They will play road games against the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, with home games against the Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, and Colorado Avalanche. It’s a big month for playoff seeding, and these games will be a tall test for a team that looked fatigued going into the All-Star Break.