Jets Could End up as the NHL’s Best

It’s coming to that point in the season where everything is winding down, and there isn’t much left to do other than to finalize the first round matchups for the postseason. As such, a small, brief window opens up where attention can be turned to some of the less pertinent stories involving some of the teams. In this case, however, for the Winnipeg Jets, one of those stories, however unlikely, could have some pretty large implications for the entire playoff landscape.

Right now, most teams have played 80 games of their 82-game schedules, and for the most part, their final standings aren’t going to change much over the final two games. If you were to take a look at the current standings, the Nashville Predators sit atop the league, all alone with 113 points. Close behind though, lurk the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and, this is where it gets fun, the Jets, all at 110 points. Of these four teams, only the Bruins have ever managed to win the Presidents’ Trophy, and although they have the most games remaining and therefore the most potential to unseat the Predators, at this point any one of those teams could run away with it.

Presidents’ Trophy Would Mark Turning Point

Perhaps surprisingly, holding the honor of being the top team at the end of the regular season isn’t exactly a coveted spot amongst teams in the NHL. It doesn’t alter their playoff position at all like it does in other leagues, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup. In fact, since its inception in 1985, only seven teams have managed to win it all in the final round after leading the regular season. For most teams, all it really amounts to is a small bonus of $350,000 to be spread amongst the team.

Patrik Laine Jets bench
The Jets have been scoring more than ever this season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For the Jets, however, finishing the season as the No. 1 team would mean a whole lot more. It would prove to everybody that they are a complete team capable of hanging with the big boys of the hockey world. When NHL hockey left the city in 1996, the whole experience left a bit of a sour taste with almost everybody associated with the ultimately failed endeavor. Sure, they had made 11 appearances in the playoffs but had never finished the season better than second in their division. This almost always resulted in very tough first-round matchups, which usually ended in their defeat. While they did manage to put out some good teams, they were never considered a threat, and clinching a playoff berth was eventually met with more than a little bit of trepidation.

When the announcement was made that the Jets would be returning to Winnipeg with the relocation of the former Atlanta Thrashers, the goal was to shed the frustrations of the past and prove to the rest of the league that small market teams could not only still be relevant but were capable of winning it all. For the first several years, this hasn’t been the case. They’ve managed only one playoff appearance in six seasons and were quickly eliminated in four straight games. In comparison, the original Jets team made the playoffs four times in their first six seasons. As bleak as things looked, though, they started turning around this year, as the Jets have been setting new team milestones all season long.

Still Lots of Competition for the Top Spot

It’s exciting to think that the Jets could cap off their best regular season with their first Presidents’ Trophy, but getting there is still going to take some work and a lot of luck. The Predators still hold the advantage by being three points ahead of the three challengers with two games remaining. They would need to lose those two games for there to even be a chance to dethrone them. On top of that, if any team is going to do it, Boston is the favorite, since they have three games left giving them a possible six points. The Lightning is the other team in that equation, and they are one of the most dangerous teams in the league.

Division rivals are vying for the top spot (Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)

For the Jets to make history, they need to win their remaining two games against Calgary and Chicago. This is where luck favors them a bit since both of those teams sit near the bottom of the Western Conference. Also on their side is the level of talent that the team has this year, with breakout seasons from superstar Patrik Laine, captain Blake Wheeler, and underrated rookie Kyle Connor. Between their scoring prowess and the Vezina-worthy performance of Connor Hellebuyck, they have all the tools necessary to make it happen.

For what it’s worth, in the grand scheme of things, winning the Presidents’ Trophy does little more than to paint a bull’s eye on the team, not to mention the enormous pressure it puts on the players. However, after three decades of mediocre outings that weren’t taken seriously by anybody, maybe the Jets can stand to bear that target for a little bit. Maybe then, they can finally sit at the top of the mountain. As exciting as they’ve been this season, it’s been long overdue.