The Winnipeg Jets defeated the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 on Nov 16 to improve their record to 9-3-3 and moved into first place in the Central Division. Since that convincing win, Paul Maurice has resigned, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers got injured, and like every other team in the league, they’ve been hit with multiple COVID outbreaks.
The Jets are now relying on multiple defencemen from the Manitoba Moose. Dylan Samberg, Ville Heinola, and Jonathan Kovacevic have all played meaningful minutes over the past two weeks. As is expected with rookies, they have been unable to play a mistake-free game and that has been a major factor in the Jets’ current six-game losing streak.
Compared to preseason expectations, the Jets have had a very disappointing first half of their season. They currently sit at 12th in the Western Conference standings with a record of 17-16-7. The Jets will take on the St. Louis Blues on Saturday to officially hit the halfway mark of the season with their 42nd game. As we approach the midseason, some awards should be given out for the first half of the season. Here are your Jets 2021-22 Midseason Awards.
For the Jets, Kyle Connor is running away with the “Team MVP” award. In 40 games played, Connor has 23 goals and 19 assists for a team-high 43 points. While making the first appearance of his career, Connor will be representing the team at the All-Star game this season. Winnipeg has found the duo of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Connor to be electric along with rookie Cole Perfetti. That line has been the team’s most reliable source of offence this season, with Connor having outscored any other Jet by 11 points.
Connor has been able to combine his elite hands along with his game-breaking speed and become one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. He has been able to find chemistry with Dubois that was not there last season, as they have become the Jets’ dynamic duo of the future.
Connor was always able to show flashes in the past, but he’s never put together a season quite like the one he is having.
After a rough 2020-21 campaign, Josh Morrissey has bounced back in a major way. Not only is he on pace to have career-highs in goals, assists and points but his analytics have also improved greatly.
When the Jets traded for Nate Schmidt, it took the majority of puck-moving responsibilities off of his shoulders and allowed him to focus more on what makes him a good defenceman. Morrissey is now able to be aggressive and break plays up in the neutral zone without having to worry about what is happening behind him.
|Expected Goals %||47.45||54.01|
|High Danger Chances %||41.72||52.82|
|Scoring Chances %||49.88||53.96|
Morrissey played 2020-21 with Tucker Poolman as his partner and has played the 2021-22 season with a mix of Schmidt and Dylan DeMelo. As we can see with his numbers, Morrissey is unable to carry a defence pairing, but when paired with the right partner he can be very effective in the 22:39 minutes he plays per game.
While it may not come as a surprise to the fans across the NHL, Dubois has been a pleasant surprise to Jets fans after struggling in 2020-21. After the Jets traded for Dubois, he was quarantined for 14 days before joining the team and was never able to get up to speed he wanted to. He recorded eight goals and 20 points in 41 games last season. In 40 games this year he has already recorded 18 goals and 31 points, which puts him on pace for 36 goals and 63 points, both of which would be career-highs.
Not only is Dubois back up to speed, but he’s also on pace for a career-high in goals and points. The newfound chemistry with Connor has been the biggest factor in Dubois’ breakout season. That duo has proven they can dominate with anybody as their winger.
First-line centres that are defensively responsible don’t grow on trees. The Jets will want to re-sign Dubois, who is a pending RFA this off-season. The Jets are projected to have roughly $13 million in cap space. If Dubois were to command a contract anywhere between $6.5-$7.5 million, which would handicap the Jets from signing other pending free agents such as Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny. This is a good problem for the Jets to have as they have found yet another top-six centre of the future.
Evgeny Svechnikov was the front-runner for this award up until 10 games ago when Perfetti was called up from the AHL and took his spot on the wing of Dubois and Connor. Svechnikov has recorded 10 points in 36 games after being signed to a professional tryout during training camp.
Father time is undefeated.
Wheeler has not completely lost to father time just yet, but it is clear that the 35-year-old is slowing down in his 15th season. He’s recorded only two goals in 26 games this season and is only on pace to score a career-low five goals.
Most of Wheeler’s struggles can be attributed to his usage. He is averaging 19:20 minutes per game, which would be his highest of the past three seasons. In his first game coming off of Long Term Injured Reserve, he was put on the top line with Mark Scheifele, as he played 21:39 against the Boston Bruins in a loss. Even with Ehlers currently injured, the Jets have better options within their top-six. At 35 years old, Wheeler would be most effective in a third-line role where he can be a force on the power play.
The whole team has had a disappointing season, so by no means is Wheeler the scapegoat for all of the Jets’ problems. Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t been his usual self, Mark Scheifele had a slow start to the season, and Adam Lowry has yet to find his offensive touch despite being played almost 17 minutes a game under interim head coach Dave Lowry.
Second Half Playoff Push
The Jets are only one game above .500 at the end of January. With the Jets scheduled to have 11 games in the final three weeks of February and 16 games in March, there is still hope that they can string together enough wins to make themselves a playoff contender.
Currently, the Jets are five points out of a wildcard spot, while needing to leapfrog four teams in the process. There is a lot of things that need to be fixed, but none bigger than the special teams. The Jets penalty kill is currently at 72.8%, which is not good enough for a playoff team.
The Jets need a long list of things to go their way to make the playoffs. Nothing is bigger than getting healthy. They are currently missing Ehlers, Morrissey, DeMelo, Logan Stanley and David Gustafsson. If they want to make a playoff push they will need these players in the lineup contributing.