It’s been almost a week now since the Winnipeg Jets made history – simultaneously earning their first ever 100 point season and clinching a playoff berth. This will be only the team’s second appearance in the postseason since their return to the “Gateway to the West,” and fans have a lot to be excited about. Unfortunately, given their history, it’s not all good news.
The team has competed in the playoffs a total of twelve times between two incarnations, and their record sits at a dismal 19 wins and 47 losses. Those losses include four sweeps where they didn’t pick up a win. The biggest takeaway from all of this disappointment is that the team always seemed in over their heads, lacking confidence and talent to make an impact.
If the Jets hope to break this trend, they will have to play like a team possessed and try to erase those memories. Luckily, since they are still relatively new to the scene, they do have a chance to wipe the slate clean with a strong showing beginning this April.
The Old Regime Couldn’t Win
The city of Winnipeg first hosted an NHL franchise from 1979 to 1996, when the team relocated to Phoenix, Arizona. The city loved their team – a dedicated fan base cheered every victory with such exuberance that they helped coin the term “White Noise.” At almost every game, fans would don the team’s home jerseys and cheer their hearts out, creating a sea of white in the stands that stretched to the rafters. Never was this sight more prevalent than in the playoffs. More often than not, however, even this display of support failed to motivate them past the first round.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 90s, the Jets had plenty of star power, and usually managed to put good teams out on the ice. This started in 1981 with Dale Hawerchuk exploding onto the scene. It then continued through to the 1992-93 season where rookies Teemu Selanne, Alexei Zhamnov, Evgeni Davidov and Keith Tkachuk each put up over twenty five goals.
The team has always had plenty of talent to go around. That being said, it’s pretty clear that they were never really lacking for goal scoring and excitement during the regular season, but when it came to the playoffs, things just stopped clicking.
Whether it is due to bad coaching, mismanagement in the front office, or just a lack of motivation, the initial run of the Winnipeg Jets ended up being seen as nothing more than another failed experiment in a small market. To be fair, during that time, the Stanley Cup championship was a monopoly held by nine teams over seventeen seasons. Still, they had all the tools to compete near the top. For one reason or another, they didn’t.
The New Jets with a Brighter Future
Taking a look at the current roster, a lot of the players weren’t alive for any of that first run, so there’s hope that the disappointment won’t weigh on their minds at all, and they can then focus on a new team milestone – making it to the Conference Final for the first time.
If all goes well, the team should be able to do that and more. As a team, there has never been a version of the Jets that played as a more cohesive unit than this one. Every player has a role and a game plan that they are able to execute on an impressively regular basis. The management is more involved in a positive way, and the coaching is better. Best of all, the entire team trusts each other like never before.
In the areas that count the most, the Jets have never had it so good. Their ability to put the puck in the net is better than ever, led by sophomore sensation Patrik Laine. His 43 goals lead the team, followed by rookie standout Kyle Connor with 29. Each line is also bolstered by excellent playmaking, with team captain Blake Wheeler leading the way with 66 assists and 86 total points. In all, much of the roster is playing the best hockey of their lives.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this year is the emergence of Connor Hellebuyck as a strong candidate for the Vezina Trophy. The young netminder was expected to do great things, just maybe not as soon as he has. The team touted him as their franchise goalie, buying veteran help this past offseason in the form of Steve Mason. Hellebuyck has rewarded their faith in him by putting together 40 wins with nine shutouts so far.
The fans of the Winnipeg Jets want to no longer be skeptical at the end of the season. They want to believe that there can still be hockey in the city in May, and even June. This is the year that their faith can be renewed. After the last game of the regular season, it will be time to break out the white, and cheer the team all the way to the Stanley Cup.