Jets Will Have a Deeper Playoff Run Than Maple Leafs & Oilers

The staff at The Score posted their latest NHL Power Rankings earlier this week, and something about them stuck out like a sore thumb. The Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets were among the top 10. The Oilers (6th), Maple Leafs (7th), and Jets (9th) provide some hope that the Stanley Cup will settle down north of the 49th parallel for the first time since 1993. But their rankings are wrong for a few reasons. Two are obvious, while the most important ones aren’t so recognizable. The Jets are ranked behind the other two clubs but are the most equipped to make a deep run in the playoffs this season.

Adam Lowry Celebrates Winnipeg Jets Bench
The Winnipeg Jets are the most likely Canadian team to challenge for the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are a few things to consider when taking this view. What wins championships? Defense. The other items to consider are the opponents, the roster’s depth up front, and the ability to improve at the deadline.

Depth of Forwards

Why did The Score rank the Oilers so high? Here’s their profound reasoning and analysis for ranking them sixth in the NHL.

Connor McDavid. We tried to be more creative here, we really did, but there’s no way we weren’t going to give it to the Oilers superstar, who’s going to hit the 100-point mark in February.

– The Score Staff, “NHL Power Rankings: 1 reason to love each team”, 13/02/2023

No one in their right mind will suggest McDavid is anything other than the best hockey player on planet Earth. Between 2010 and 2015, when they selected McDavid, the Oilers had the first-overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft four times. Yet they missed the playoffs every season until 2017 when they won one series before missing the playoffs the following two seasons. They won two playoff series last year but in the Pacific Division, the weakest in hockey.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, they have McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but after those two, the depth drops off, and since the flow of every Oilers game travels through them, as they go, so too does the rest of the forward unit. With these two powerhouse scorers, the Oilers currently sit fourth in the Pacific Division, not exactly a place you would expect the league’s highest-scoring team.

The Maple Leafs and Jets are much more balanced up front. They both have top-six forward units among the best in the league, and the teams match up very closely. Again, who is going to question the value of Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner? Only Montreal Canadiens fans. The Jets, meanwhile, have one of the best centre ice tandems in Pierre-Luc Dubois and Mark Scheifele, both of whom are having career years offensively.

Related: Jets Cannot Win the Stanley Cup Without a Couple of Trades

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Neither team possesses the game’s best player, but they both have a better and more well-rounded 12-man unit up front. As mentioned, the Oilers have scored a league-high 201 goals but have given up 173, which is a differential of plus-28. The Leafs have scored 181 goals but have a differential of plus-37. The Jets have only scored 170 goals thus far and still have a better differential than the Oilers at plus-32. This trend leads to a more critical factor that leaves the Oilers in the rearview mirror.

Defense Wins Championships

It’s not a new idea, but it holds. If this was the 1980s, the Oilers might win in the spring, but it’s not. The Jets, for instance, were one of the worst defensive teams in the league over the past few seasons. Hire a new coach that instructs with passion, enthusiasm, and an insistence on playing a total team defensive game then suddenly, you’re in a position to go on a long playoff run.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness, Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Jets tick the boxes here that the other teams don’t. They are fourth in the NHL in goals against, allowing only 140. They are third in the league on the penalty kill and third in goals-against per game, allowing only 2.59 per contest. These low numbers were unthinkable in the past two seasons. Team defense has quickly become their new identity.

Add to that the Jets have Connor Hellebuyck between the pipes, and although they don’t possess one of the best forwards on the planet, they employ one of the best goalies. It’s hard to score goals in the NHL. It becomes more difficult late in the season and worse in the playoffs. Of the three teams, the Jets are most adept to handle a low-scoring game or series.

Being in the East is Not Easy

Geography plays a sizeable role here and further hinders the Maple Leafs. It’s no secret they are in the stiffer half of the NHL. In those same rankings released by The Score, the top five clubs were all members of the Eastern Conference. It’s natural to think the Leafs will have a more difficult path to the Stanley Cup Final because they do. They would have to navigate through teams like the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning. There is no question they have the most arduous path to playoff success.

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a tough playoff run ahead of them. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The West, however, is wide open. Last year it was obvious that the Colorado Avalanche were the overwhelming favourites to emerge from the Western Conference. That isn’t the case this season; not one club has claimed itself as a favourite. The fact that the Oilers were ranked ahead of four teams with more points than them is an indicator. Three of those teams are in the same conference as the Oilers, who currently sit fourth in the tight Pacific Division.

The Jets and Oilers have an easier path to glory, but as stated before, the Oilers don’t have the defensive infrastructure to flourish in a playoff run in the current NHL.

Jets Have a Huge Advantage at the Trade Deadline

With the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline on the horizon, the Jets have money in their pocket while the other two don’t. They can markedly improve their current roster while the Maple Leafs and Oilers have their hands tied. When asked about Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas and his intentions at the trade deadline, Elliotte Friedman made the following statement.

I think he would like to take a big swing, but I think what he’s trying to figure out is how on earth he can do it, and right now he uses the same calculator as everyone else. Unless he has a magic calculator that bends the realities of the cap, it’s going to be really hard to do. I think he’d like to do something larger, I just don’t know if he’s going to be able to do it.

– from Rory Boylen, “8 questions leading up to the 2023 NHL trade deadline“, 07/02/2023

The Maple Leafs and Oilers both coincidentally have the same $1.1 million of deadline cap space available to spend, while the Jets have $9 million at their disposal. That provides the ability to afford any player they want without altering their current roster. They have the luxury of moving a top-six forward or top-four defenseman while the Leafs and Oilers don’t. Not without a large-scale move within their current roster.

Ken Holland and Kyle Dubas
Oilers’ GM Ken Holland and the Maple Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas are cash-strapped. (The Hockey Writers)

With plenty of prospects and draft picks to offer, there isn’t a player on the trade market that the Jets cannot afford. It is the one huge advantage they hold over the other two teams and one they will most certainly use. If ever there was a time to pull the trigger on a big trade for the Jets, now is that time.

Due to offensive depth, defensive play and geography, the Jets have the advantage in a playoff run over the Maple Leafs and Oilers. Throw in their ability to seriously improve the roster, and it’s difficult to argue that they are the Canadian team that will make the deepest run this spring.

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