The Winnipeg Jets will begin their 2021-22 season with a tilt against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 13, the first contest in a more status-quo 82-game season that ends on April 29.
Here are three bold predictions for the re-tooled club with Stanley Cup aspirations.
1: Mark Scheifele Reaches the 100-Point Plateau
Mark Scheifele is already an elite talent and a perennial point-per-game guy, but this author believes the 2021-22 campaign is when he will take his game to yet another level.
The Jets’ top-line centre led the team in points last season with 63 (21 goals, 42 assists) in 56 games. If the season had been 82 games instead of 56, he would have set a new career-high with 92.25 points.
At 28 years old, the Jets’ first-ever draft pick is now firmly in his prime and a 100 point season is not out of the question if he stays healthy.
Scheifele is fairly durable and plays consistently at a very high level; he was held pointless only 14 times in all of 2020-21, and never for more than three games in a row.
The hyper-focused and dedicated Scheifele will be highly motivated coming into this season. Even after being dispatched by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, he was spitting mad about the overly-harsh suspension he received for charging Jake Evans in Game 1 of that series (he will have to sit out the season opener as he serves the final game of his ban.) He should be able to channel his anger over the way his season ended into a strong start.
Further adding to Scheifele’s motivation will be his push for a spot on Team Canada’s 2022 Olympic roster. After the NHL opted not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the world’s best will once again be on the world stage where they belong this upcoming February in Beijing. Scheifele is just one of more than a handful of Jets who could represent their countries.
“Obviously, that’s in the back of my mind every single day,” Scheifele said to the Winnipeg Free Press recently of the chance at going to the Olympics, “and it just gives you that extra motivation to be better and better for the Winnipeg Jets.” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff certainly believes Scheifele is capable of more.
“His work ethic and his training is legendary as far as what he does and his knowledge of the game,” Cheveldayoff said. “He’s a guy that’s very driven and very motivated. I think there are still levels of his game that he’s still achieving.From “Scheifele works on all-around game,” Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 24, 2021.
2: Jets’ Defense Is In the Top 10 for Fewest High-Danger Chances Allowed
Gone should be the days of the Jets giving up too many Grade-A scoring chances and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck having to atone for a myriad of defensive sins.
Last season, at all strengths, the Jets’ d-core gave up 689 high-danger chances (an average of 12.30 per game.) That was second-worst in the NHL to only the Chicago Blackhawks, who gave up 690. It was only thanks to another superb season from their number-one netminder that they qualified for the playoffs.
Hellebuyck will be leaned on heavily again, starts-wise — Eric Comrie isn’t nearly the same calibre of backup as the now-departed Laurent Brossoit — but shouldn’t be as barraged as he was since the 2019 mass exodus that left the Jets’ blue line in a sorry state.
Cheveldayoff failed to address it over the past two seasons, but shored up his team’s biggest weakness in a big way this offseason, acquiring top-four blue liners Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt in separate trades.
The hard-hitting Dillon and slick-puck-moving Schmidt join Dylan DeMelo, Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, and Logan Stanley on a defensive core that looks to be a point of strength.
Last season, the 10 best teams when it came to high-danger chances against allowed between 481 (the Colorado Avalanche) and 550 (the Washington Capitals.) 550 is an average of 9.82 against per game over 56 games.
Giving up fewer than 10 a night is certainly something the Jets’ defense should aspire to and be capable of achieving, as long as they’re deployed correctly.
3: Jets Finish Top 2 in the Central
It seems like a lifetime since the Jets have tangled with their once-familiar foes. But based on the current landscape, they have a good chance of doing well in their return to the Central Division.
After an offseason where they spent to the cap ceiling, the Jets are in win-now mode and are predicted by many to be one of the NHL’s top teams. They actually had a fighting chance to finish first among their Canadian compatriots last season, but ended up in third after a disastrous slump in which they lost seven games in a row and nine of their last twelve.
The Central Division isn’t quite as fearful as it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports-betting site Oddsshark.com, for example, has only one Central team in its top eight: the juggernaut Avalanche, who have the best odds to win it all and for good reason.
The newly-arrived Arizona Coyotes are expected to be among the NHL’s bottom-feeders, while the Chicago Blackhawks —who won three Stanley Cups between 2010-2015 — are now in a rebuild. The Dallas stars took a big step back after going to the Stanley Cup Final in the 2020 summer bubble, while the Nashville Predators — a few seasons ago the Central’s scariest squad —have been on a bit of a downward trend and have lost some key personnel.
But make no mistake, there are still tough opponents: the surging Minnesota Wild and the 2019 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues are both heavyweights, and so are the aforementioned Avalanche.
The Jets will face Central Division opponents 26 times this season, and Divisional success is always paramount. The Jets had a .500-or-better record against every Central opponent in 2019-20.
It won’t be an easy road, but with their high-end offensive skill and depth, vastly-improved defence, and a Vezina-winner in net, the Jets are equipped to finish in the top two. If they don’t, it won’t be due to lack of talent, but rather due to poor usage by head coach Paul Maurice. Where these re-acquainted teams all end up — and how long it will take for things to get nasty again — will both be interesting to see.
What are your bold predictions for the Jets’ 2021-22 season? Comment below!
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.