Jets’ Season Opens with October Mystery and Advantage

The Winnipeg Jets open the 2021-22 season on Wednesday, but the NHL schedule makers seemed to have treated them like the metaphorical middle child and, just like many in the hockey world, accidentally forgot about them. Fortunately for the Jets, those in control of their fate seemed to have taken the stereotypical approach and overcompensated positively to feel better about themselves. In very unusual fashion, the Jets have what can only be considered a weird October. Not one that is a disadvantage, mind you, just very mysterious.

This season, the Jets are to play each team in the Pacific Division three times. The team travels to California twice in October and will complete their schedule against the Anaheim Ducks before Halloween. Yes, the Jets take on the not so mighty Ducks three times in 13 days and will then say goodbye to them for the year.

Winnipeg Jets Tyler Myers Anaheim Ducks Max Jones
The Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks play each other three times in October. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

They travel twice to San Jose and once to Los Angeles to take on the Kings this month. In essence, the Jets have eight games this month, commencing on the 13th at the Honda Center in Anaheim, and play six times against the three California clubs who have been deemed to be basement dwellers of a weak Pacific Division.

So here’s a more detailed look at the Jets’ October. They play the Ducks and the San Jose Sharks on the 13th and 16th, then a stopover in Minnesota to take on the Wild on the 19th before hosting their first home game of the season on the 21st. Who is the visiting team, you ask? The Ducks, of course, because that just makes sense. On the 26th, the Nashville Predators come to town before the Jets head back to The Golden State to suit up against the Ducks (for the third time), the Sharks (for the second time), and the Kings on the 26th, 28th, and 30th respectively.

The Advantage

The oddity of the season’s first month for the Jets is that all three California teams are expected to be at the bottom of what most pundits predict as the weakest division in the NHL. In a year where the Stanley Cup is very much in the conversation in Manitoba’s capital, the ability to get off to a good start is staring the Jets right in the face. Of the 16 possible points up for grabs before November, the Jets should be in possession of at least 11. In that time, they also play the Predators, a team slated for the lower-midrange of the Central Division and the Wild, the Jets’ definite 2021-22 rival. Minnesota promises to be a team the Jets will be battling for playoff positioning by season’s end. That first divisional matchup looks to be the one true test for this team this month and a prelude to the season in which it’s predicted the Jets and Wild could be scrapping for second place in the Central behind the Colorado Avalanche.

Winnipeg Jets Kyle Connor celebrates with Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny, and Josh Morrissey
Winnipeg Jets look to take advantage of a California-heavy schedule in October (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

It doesn’t matter what the Avalanche or the rest of the Central Division teams’ schedules look like this month, as they’re all going to play the California trio eventually. We’re not comparing apples to oranges here, but the fact remains the Jets can come out of the gates in a very favorable position. Getting a jump on the division is a big plus and the Jets need to take advantage of this scheduling anomaly. A good start breeds confidence, and confidence breeds good play, wherein good play translates to wins. October could set a tone for the remainder of the Jets’ season and what a great way to open the first ‘normal’ season in two years.

The X-Factor

Much has been made of the Jets’ offseason acquisitions, the depth of their forward corps, and yes, one of the best netminders on the planet wears a Jets’ uniform. The question is, how much of the workload does Connor Hellebuyck take on? Most professional prognosticators suggest he plays in the neighborhood of 60-65 games this season, while he has made it clear he’s cool with playing all 82. Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur was famous for starting 95% or more of the New Jersey Devils’ games back in the 2000s, but that trend has gone by the wayside. The true key for the Jets’ season lies in the crease, not with Hellebuyck’s ability but his availability. Backup Eric Comrie has had an excellent American Hockey League career, but he has not been given a real NHL opportunity and is unproven at this level.

Add in Hellebuyck’s almost certain Olympic experience in February and coach Paul Maurice needs to be judicious with his most valuable asset and his workload/schedule over the next eight to nine months. At the outset of the season, in a month where points could be like ripe California oranges ripe for the picking, does he go with Hellebuyck for a large majority, or is it a good time to get Comrie some game action against some weaker opponents? This is the juggling act that Maurice and the coaching staff will face as the season progresses.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is the key to the Jets’ season. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The Jets have the chance to jump out of the proverbial gate like a thoroughbred at Assiniboia Downs, and the NHL has put the fodder at its feet. Whether they take advantage of this unique opportunity is in their hands and currently the unknown. It’s hard to say whether the league was attempting to trick them or treat them with this October schedule, but by All Hallows Eve, Jets fans should have their answer. If this team is as deep and balanced as they have been preaching throughout training camp, then Winnipeggers have no reason to believe anything other than October should be a sweet treat.

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