We’re just over a month away from the 2022-23 NHL regular season, a big one for the Winnipeg Jets. General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff didn’t make any big additions in the offseason, but has pegged a brand-new coaching staff led by Rick Bowness to forge a path back to relevance and the playoffs.
Every game of the 82-game schedule — which begins Oct. 14 against the New York Rangers and ends April 13 against the Colorado Avalanche— is big to Jets fans and to writers such as yours truly. Both groups will being watching closely to see whether the disappointing 2021-22 season can be left in the rearview mirror.
That being said, some games stand out as must-watches more than others. Here are the top five, in chronological order.
Saturday, Oct. 22 vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season, an early-December matchup between the Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs took number-one spot in our Top 5 Games of 2021-22 article.
The 6-3 Dec. 9 Jets victory was full of memorable moments: a pre-game ceremony commemorating Blake Wheeler’s 1000th-career NHL game, Pierre-Luc Dubois wrestling with Auston Matthews, and Logan Stanley going viral for scrapping with an irate Wayne Simmonds and firing up the crowd with a “victory V” in the final minute. The game even led to the creation of a meme: Stanley exclaimed “let’s go get F— up!” in the locker-room helmet presentation, which the Jets social media team rebranded to “let’s go have fun and be responsible!”)
What made the barn-burner even better was the party atmosphere. Many already-well-lubricated fans decked out in Winnipeg Blue Bombers jerseys came directly from IG Field in a celebratory mood, as they’d just watched their Canadian Football League team defeat arch-rival Saskatchewan Roughriders 21-17 in the West Final to advance to the Grey Cup.
If the upcoming Saturday-night prime-time matchup is even half as entertaining, it’ll be well worth attending or tuning into. As always, there will be plenty of Maple Leafs fans in attendance, and friendly fan rivalries always add to the game day experience (especially if chant duels get going.)
That’s to say nothing about the quality of the Jets’ opponent itself — Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and company are always a big draw and always tough to beat.
Saturday, Nov. 12 at Calgary Flames
In this game, the Jets will get a glimpse at a franchise that was in a similar situation just a year ago and surged above their circumstances.
The Flames, in their first full season under head coach Darryl Sutter, finished first in the Pacific Division with 50 wins. Sutter was widely regarded as the biggest reason for the’ turnaround — the Flames missed the playoffs the season prior — and he won the Jack Adams Award for the league’s top coach.
Bowness finds himself under expectations akin to Sutter’s — to get much more out of a talented-but-flawed group than the previous coaches. Cheveldayoff is certainly hoping Bowness et. al can renew a that finished sixth in the Central Division and well out of the playoff picture last season like Sutter renewed the Flames.
Jets fans watching on television or at the Scotiabank Saddledome will also get a look at a team whose GM simply acts instead of making excuses for the constraints he’s under in trying to attract talent.
Brad Treliving was dealt an awful hand early in the offseason. First, 115-point producer Johnny Gaudreau dropped a bomb by telling the team less than 24 hours before free agency opened that he wouldn’t re-sign, and walked for nothing, signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Just a few days later, RFA Matthew Tkachuk announced he had no intention of re-signing long term either.
Treliving could have just thrown up his hands and called regression inevitable. Instead, he went to work. He dealt the disgruntled Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers in a shocking blockbuster which brought Johnathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt, and a conditional 2025 first-round pick to Calgary.
Not yet satisfied, Treliving signed Nazem Kadri — the last big free agent fish in the pond who was holding out after a career year with the Colorado Avalanche — to a seven-year deal that will likely see him end his career as a Flame.
Treliving’s deftness at replacing talent should make Jets fans jealous — one can only imagine how much the fanbase would have been re-energized if Cheveldayoff did something even half as impactful this offseason. He was speculated to trade either Brenden Dillon or Blake Wheeler prior to the draft free up cap space, but did neither. In free agency, his only NHL-calibre additions were backup goalie David Rittich and depth forward Sam Gagner.
Cheveldayoff will be forced to make some moves in the near future. Dubois is not long for the team and put them in a bind by announcing, like Tkachuk, that he has no intention of signing a long-term deal. Mark Scheifele, based on his comments at year end that kicked up a hornets’ nest, may also have one foot out the door.
Tuesday, Dec. 20 vs. Ottawa Senators
This will be the Jets’ first look at what may be the NHL’s most improved team. The Senators finished seventh in the Atlantic Division last season but had a massive offseason.
Related: 3 Senators Who Could Be X-Factors in 2022-23
General manager Pierre Doiron massively altered the team’s trajectory by going all-in on accelerating the rebuild. Since June, Doiron has turned the Senators into potential playoff contenders, inking top centres Josh Norris and Tim Stutzle to long-term deals, bringing in experienced netminder Cam Talbot, trading for 40-goal scorer Alex Debrincat, and signing veteran point-producer Claude Giroux in free agency.
Contrast that with Cheveldayoff, who didn’t commit to any defined path — not a load-up, nor a rebuild, nor a tank — with the quiet offseason we covered above.
The Jets are just 7-5-0 against the Senators over the past two seasons (the teams faced 10 times in 2020-21 when they were both part of the temporary all-Canadian North Division) so the Sens haven’t been a free space on the bingo card by any stretch despite being one of the NHL’s weaker teams. If the Jets take them lightly in late December, they’ll leave with a loss.
Saturday, Feb. 11 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This game will kick off the Jets’ stretch drive. It’ll be their first game in 12 days as they come out of their league-mandated five-day-player break, which is preceded by the All-Star break.
The Jets will want to begin the final third of their schedule with a win against a Central Division foe who had a fire sale this offseason and are rebuilding from the foundation after a dynastic, three-Stanley-Cup-winning 2010s.
By February, we’ll know a lot about the 2022-23 Jets — whether their potential X-Factors have stepped up, whether the players who disappointed last year have bounced back, and whether Bowness manages Connor Hellebuyck’s workload better than Paul Maurice and Dave Lowry. The team paid the price down the stretch last season for running their number-one goaltender ragged.
The Jets need to do well against beatable opponents during this portion of the schedule — 17 of their 30 post-All-Star break games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, but the three opponents after the Blackhawks game — the Seattle Kraken, Blue Jackets, and New Jersey Devils — all failed to qualify.
Also of interest in this game is the start time itself. The game is in Winnipeg, but doesn’t start until 9 p.m. local — that’s the latest home puck drop in Jets 2.0 history.
Friday, March 31 vs. Detroit Red Wings
By late March, the season will be in its dying days, and we’ll know whether the Jets’ “run-it-back” gamble paid off. We’ll also know if the Detroit Red Wings were ready for prime-time.
Like the Senators, the Red Wings had a strong offseason. They finished sixth in the Atlantic Division last season and haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons, but finally look poised to find their way out of the wilderness.
Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman took full advantage of his cap space and went on a shopping spree this summer, significantly improving his roster. He added Ben Chiarot, Andrew Copp, Robert Hagg, Dominik Kubalik, Olli Maatta, and Mark Pysyk through free agency, and also acquired the rights to goaltender Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues. Yzerman then inked Husso to a three-year, $14.25 million contract.
The matchup will mark the Michigan-born Copp’s first game in Winnipeg since being traded to the New York Rangers at the Trade Deadline last season. Copp — who signed a five-year deal with the Red Wings after reaching a career-high 53 points — spent 467 games with the Jets over eight seasons and blossomed into a top-six forward and a fan favourite. He is well-deserving of a nice tribute and ovation from Jets’ fans.
Chiarot, who spent five seasons with the Jets but hit unrestricted free agency during the Jets’ 2019 defensive exodus, will also be back. It won’t be his first time, though as he played in Winnipeg as a member of the Montreal Canadiens a number of times over the past three seasons.
Yzerman, who also made nine picks at the 2022 Draft in Montreal, is yet another example of a GM who’s put his team on a solidly upward trajectory. This may be the first matchup between the two teams in a long time where the Red Wings are a playoff contender and the Jets are not.
- Thursday, Nov. 3 vs. Montreal Canadiens
- Monday Nov. 21 vs. Carolina Hurricanes
- Saturday, Dec. 31 at Edmonton Oilers
- Monday, Jan. 30 at St. Louis Blues
- Saturday, March 11 at Florida Panthers
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