Jets Could Make Noise In Proposed Return-To-Play Playoff Format

Bookies and sports betters are giving the Jets long Stanley Cup odds if the NHL’s return to play 24-team playoff format comes to fruition.

Figures released on May 23 by Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook have the Jets as 50-to-1 underdogs to hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug should the expanded postseason framework be approved.

Based on talent alone, the Jets are far from the deepest. Based on the proposal, they are far from the best-positioned. However, despite the lack of love from Las Vegas, the Jets have the potential to make a serious run.

Jets Were In Fine Form Pre-Pandemic…

Prior to the NHL season pause more than two months ago owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jets were one of the league’s hottest teams and were playing their best hockey of the season.

Related: Fire Forged Jets Soaring During Stretch Run

Indeed, they were soaring during the stretch run and were winners of five of their last six before the league paused on March 12. Their last game was a crucial 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, less than 24 hours before the league screeched to a halt, that improved their record to 37-28-6 and kept them in the second Western Conference wild card spot. That victory came after a 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes, a 4-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, and a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Patrik Laine Winnipeg Jets
The Jets won of five of their last six games and were on a four-game winning streak before the season was put on pause. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

They were also finally somewhat healthy as a whole. After being forced to battle through 333 lost man games through 71 games — eighth most in the league) — the list of walking wounded was getting shorter. Josh Morrissey, Mathieu Perreault, and Patrik Laine all got back to action just prior the pause and Adam Lowry was nearing a return.

Of course, momentum from March is long gone and whether they can build that type of traction again after a long hiatus is up for debate. At least all teams will be on even footing when it comes to being rusty. Patrik Laine, for example, recently said his game would “probably… look terrible since (he hasn’t) skated for two months.”

…But their Road to the Cup Would Be A Long One

We’ve heard government officials, doctors, and a myriad of other experts say over the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” That phrase, while overused (along with “now more than ever,” “it’s not business as usual,” “we’re here for you,” and other tired, hackneyed advertising phrases) certainly applies to the Jets’ path if the NHL does return to play.

19 playoff victories — not the usual 16 — would be required for the Jets to win the Stanley Cup. They’d need to win a best-of-five play-in round to even get a chance to play in the traditional 16-team bracket, where they’d face the top seed of the four West Division teams — the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, and the Golden Knights — that got byes through the play-in round.

The Jets would be the ninth seed and face the eight-seeded Calgary Flames. It’d be the first time the teams face each other in the postseason in more than 30 years — the last time they did was 1987, when Dale Hawerchuk and co. captured a 4-2 series win over Lanny McDonald’s squad in a first-round 1987 Smythe Division matchup. It’d also be the first all-Canadian series since 2015.

Jets Versus Flames Could Be Must-See Series

Those two facts, and the fact the Jets and Flames appear to be evenly matched, could make for some must-see TV (considering no one will be allowed in the stands.)

The only time the Jets and Flames played each other in 2019-20 was at a huge event that seems alien in the era of physical distancing — the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina. In that game, Bryan Little scored the overtime winner to give the Jets a 2-1 victory in front of 33,000 fans on a snowy late-October evening. The Jets and Flames were set to meet again on March 14 in Calgary, but of course, that didn’t happen.

Winnipeg Jets Calgary Flames NHL Heritage Classic
The last time the Jets and Flames met was back in October at the 2019 Heritage Classic. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards)

The Jets have a dangerous top six, with Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Laine, and Nikolaj Ehlers leading the charge on offence. They’re explosive, and quick production will be paramount in a short series.

Kyle Connor Winnipeg Jets
Kyle Connor leads the Jets’ dangerous offence in goals with 38. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The bottom six, meanwhile, will be bolstered with the addition of Cody Eakin, acquired prior to the trade deadline from the Golden Knights, pugnacious power forward Adam Lowry, who suffered a long-term upper-body injury in mid-January, and perhaps even Little, who suffered a serious brain injury in early November after taking an Ehlers slap shot to the head.

The blue line is also respectable again, the February addition of Dylan DeMelo stabilizing a d-corps that also features Nathan Beaulieu, Dmitri Kulikov, Neal Pionk, Tucker Poolman, and Luca Sbisa. Sami Niku and Carl Dahlstrom are other options.

Related: 3 New Jets Who Surprised in 2019-20

In goal, the Jets have a slight edge: the rock-solid Connor Hellebuyck — who stole the Jets countless games and should win the Vezina Trophy and perhaps the Hart too — posted great numbers (31 wins, a 2.57 GAA, .922 SV% and six shutouts), but so did Cam Talbot in a smaller sample size (22 wins, a 2.63 GAA, .919 SV% and two shutouts.)

Over their past 10 head-to-head games, the Flames possess a 5-3-2 record against the Jets and have outscored them 29-18. In those 10 games, Johnny Gaudreau had five goals and seven assists while Sean Monahan had a goal and seven apples.

Johnny Gaudreau, Derek Ryan
Johnny Gaudreau has 12 points in his last 10 games against the Jets. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

Much Work Needs to Be Done Before the Puck Can Drop Again

Of course, all this discussion could be for naught as here’s still a lot the NHL needs to hash out before a potential summer hockey extravaganza could come to fruition. While the NHL Players’ Association Board — comprised of 31 team representatives — approved the plan last Friday and negotiations are ongoing, the Board of Governors still needs to approve it.

In addition, safety protocols surrounding self-isolation, getting international players back to North America, hub cities, potential rule changes — for example, what to do about spitting or scrums? — and the seeding format still need to be established. The checklist the league needs to fulfil is long and even the best-intentioned plans could be completely undone if even one player tests positive for the Coronavirus or worse, the virus spreads between players.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
Gary Bettman, the NHLPA, the Board of Governors, and many others still have a lot of work to do before players can potentially hit the ice again. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

However, if things do pan out, the Jets have a chance. They’re a fire-forged team, no strangers to overcoming tremendous adversity. They did it all season long — the contract disputes that spilled over into training camp and the finally-resolved Dustin Byfuglien saga in addition to all the injuries discussed — and it’s the only reason they’re in the top 24.

There’s no doubt coming out of a long break and making some noise in a one-of-a-kind playoffs would be apropos for such a resilient squad who have already weathered a season like no other.