Winnipeg Jets: 5 Must-Watch Games in 2023-24

We’re just over a month away from the 2023-24 NHL regular season, which will be a big one for the Winnipeg Jets. The General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is attempting an on-the-fly retool, and he has divested of some of his previous core players (but not as many as expected, with ConnorHellebuyck and Mark Scheifele still members of the team as of this writing,) They’ll attempt to stay competitive in the Central Division with head coach Rick Bowness still at the helm.

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Every game of the 82-game schedule — which begins Oct. 11 against the Calgary Flames and ends April 18 against the Vancouver Canucks— is big to Jets fans and to writers such as yours truly. Both groups will being watching closely to see whether the retool, which comes after yet another disappointing early playoff exit last season, will ultimately succeed.

Related: Jets: 5 Things to Be Excited About In 2023-24

That being said, some games in particular stand out as must-watches. Here are the top five, in chronological order.

Tuesday, Oct. 17 vs. Los Angeles Kings — The Return of a New King

The Jets won’t have to wait long for Pierre-Luc Dubois to return to Winnipeg — he and his new squad arrive at Canada Life Centre for the Jets’ third game of the season.

The power forward refused to sign a new deal with the Jets on the heels of a career year and was subsequently dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in late June for Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari, Gabriel Vilardi, and a second-round draft pick in 2024. He will undoubtedly garner a mixed reaction from fans.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Winnipeg Jets
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While he was highly productive in his 195 games with the Jets — recording 63 goals and 143 points — and displayed a heady mixture of skill and physicality, he also quickly soured on the market and asked for a ticket out of town after just two-and-a-half years. Jets fans don’t easily forgive and forget players who refuse to stay, so expect some boos (but potentially cheers during the inevitable video tribute.)

Monday, Oct. 30 vs. New York Rangers — The Former Face of the Franchise Returns

This game features another high-profile return, but this player will be received quite a bit better.

Former captain and franchise leader in games played Blake Wheeler, who signed a one-year deal with the Rangers after the Jets bought him out on June 30, will undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from fans despite leaving a mixed legacy.

Related: Jets’ Wheeler Buyout the Right Decision for Franchise

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The 37-year-old — who is searching for a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in the twilight of his career — needed to be removed from the Jets franchise for it move forward in a new direction, and the fact they did not accomplish much during his tenure — just three playoff series wins — falls partially on his shoulders. Despite that, he did a lot of positive things over 12 seasons and 874 games that deserve to be acknowledged.

Blake Wheeler Winnipeg Jets
Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Wheeler was an elite playmaker for a long time and owns the Thrashers/Jets franchise records in games played, assists, and points. He stayed in his prime older than most, recording back-to-back 91-point seasons in his 30s, and was tough as nails to boot. He was also a good ambassador who was always willing to get out and about in the community.

Saturday, Dec. 30 vs. Minnesota Wild — Renewed Hostilities Between Rivals With Bad Blood

There’s some bad blood between these two squads from last season they’ll have to wait nearly three months to settle. The events of the April 11 matchup will make this matchup between two Divisional and geographical rivals even hotter than usual.

During the third period of the April 11 game, Ryan Hartman obliterated a vulnerable Nikolaj Ehlers in the neutral zone when Ehlers didn’t have the puck. The hit, for which Hartman received a minor penalty and later a one-game suspension, injured Ehlers and kept him out of the first-round matchup with the Vegas Golden Knights until Game 5 (where the Jets were eliminated.)

The game was out of control by that point as earlier in the third, Ryan Reaves hit Dylan DeMelo from behind but the refereeing duo of Trevor Hanson and Jean Hebert ignored the flagrant infraction.

There’s not only bad blood between the players, but between the coaches as well. After Wild head coach Dean Evason sent out Reaves instead of a scorer in the final minute when the Wild were losing by two — which forced Adam Lowry to fight Reaves — Bowness was livid and appeared to challenge Evason to some fisticuffs of their own.

Reaves has moved on to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brenden Dillon fought Hartman in that game to hold him accountable, but there’s still bound to be some residual nastiness. Making it even better is that the Dec. 30 game is the first of a home-and-home, with the second half taking place in Minneapolis just 23 hours later on New Year’s Eve.

Saturday, March 2 @ Carolina Hurricanes — The Start of a Hectic March

This game, an early Saturday matchup, is the opener of the Jets’ busiest month of the season.

The Jets will play 16 games in March, and the home/road split (seven/nine) will include nine time-zone switches (Eastern — Central — Pacific — Eastern — Central — Pacific — Eastern — Mountain — Pacific — Eastern.) It also includes a five-game eastern road trip and three back-to-backs.

That’s one heck of a grind and one daunting travel schedule, even for professional athletes who don’t exactly travel economy.

If the Jets are on the playoff bubble entering March, a bad showing through this stretch could bury them. However, they’ll have decided whether to sell or not before then as the 2024 Trade Deadline is before that on Friday, March 1.

If they are still in contention, it will be important to get off to a good start against the Hurricanes, who are among the best of the eight March opponents that qualified for the playoffs last season.

Saturday, April 6 @ Minnesota Wild — First of Potential “Make or Break” Central Division Stretch

This Saturday-afternoon matchup marks the beginning of four-straight Divisional matchups for the Jets, which could make or break their — or someone else’s — postseason hopes.

Nate Schmidt Nikolaj Ehlers Dylan Samberg Winnipeg Jets
Nate Schmidt, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Dylan Samberg, Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Jets are battling for a playoff spot as they were in April last season, this game and the three that follow — April 9 versus the Nashville Predators, April 11 versus the Dallas Stars, and April 13 versus the Colorado Avalanche — will be crucial. Last season, the Avalanche, Stars, and Wild finished top three in the Central, with only one point separating first from second and five points separating first from third. The Jets finished fourth, one point above the Predators, to capture the second Western Conference Wild Card spot.

If the retool doesn’t work and the Jets are out of contention, these games will instead represent a potential opportunity to play spoiler.

Honourable mentions:

  • Saturday, Oct. 14 vs. Florida Panthers: the Jets’ home opener and visit from former head coach Paul Maurice.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 24 vs. St. Louis Blues: a 7:45 CT start time, part of the NHL’s experiment to stagger start times that evening so viewers can watch more games.
  • Wednesday. Dec. 27 @ Chicago Blackhawks: the Jets’ first look at 2023 first-overall pick and potential generational talent Connor Bedard.
  • Friday, Dec. 22 vs. Boston Bruins: the Bruins’ — who set an NHL record last season with 135 points — only visit to Canada Life Centre.
  • Sunday, Feb. 25 vs. Arizona Coyotes: the Jets’ always-popular WASAC Night, which celebrates Indigenous culture and sport achievement.