The Winnipeg Jets are set to embark on a season of high expectations, with many of their core players set to become unrestricted free agents next offseason. From management to on-ice production, there is plenty of pressure surrounding the organization heading into a storyline-filled season.
What are the expectations? I took to Twitter/X to survey Jets fans who were asked to vote on many areas. Here is where the fanbase sits heading into the 2023-24 instalment of the club.
#1 – Will the Jets Finish with More or Less than 95 Points?
The Jets organization finished with a 46-33-3 record in 2022-23, with 95 points and the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The first question was whether or not fans think the team could improve on that mark, and 56 percent of respondents answered that the Jets will finish below that total.
Some cited the fact that Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck may not last the full season with the organization (that question is coming) as a reason the Jets will miss the playoffs and regress from last season. Whether or not the roster has improved heading into the season is a big topic of discussion and can’t be answered until we see game action.
If Scheifele and Hellebuyck stay with the club, and the team remains relatively healthy, the Jets should come close to or surpass the 95-point mark. But there are many factors at play, including the question marks surrounding Scheifele and Hellebuyck, the uncertainty of the second-line centre position, and health potentially becoming an issue for the second season in a row.
#2 – Who Wins the Jets’ Second-Line Centre Role?
The biggest uncertainty on the roster is the second-line centre position after the departure of Pierre-Luc Dubois. The team received Gabriel Vilardi in return for Dubois, and 62.1 percent of fans believe he has the highest chance of winning this role. Vilardi posted 41 points in 63 games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2022-23 and has played centre in his brief 152-game career.
Coming in second was Cole Perfetti with 23.4 percent of the votes. He is a great option as well, as he was originally drafted to be a centre and could break out in that role. Moving him down could help keep him healthy, as he has missed significant time over the past two seasons with upper-body injuries.
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Coming in last with 12.9 percent of the votes was Vladislav Namestnikov, who would likely be head coach Rick Bowness’ choice to lean on if the youngsters do not impress out of training camp. He filled that role last season for the Jets and was steady alongside Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler; they formed a solid second line and one of the better line combinations in 2022-23.
#3 – How Many 20+ Goal Scorers Will the Jets Have?
The results were very close, with 55.3 percent of people saying the Jets will have 4-5 20+ goal-scorers, 39.8 percent leaning towards 2-3, and 4.9 percent having six or more players hitting that mark, which would be an incredible feat.
This is a vote of confidence in the Jets’ offensive depth. Last season, Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Dubois were the only three players who scored 20+ goals for the club. However, new additions Vilardi and Nino Niederreiter surpassed the 20-goal mark in 2022-23. A full healthy season from Ehlers, and he will likely hit that mark as well.
Let’s assume full health and that Scheifele, Connor, Vilardi, Niederreiter, and Ehlers are locks for 20+ goals – they have done it with ease in the past and could easily repeat it. Alex Iafallo has never hit 20 goals – he reached a career-high with 17 in 2021-22. If the 4.9 percent of voters are proven right, it will take a massive breakout season from Perfetti. He was on pace for 13 goals last season before he injured his shoulder. While the 4-5 option is the most likely, a breakout season from Perfetti could see him jump into that range.
#4 – Who Will Be the Next Captain of the Winnipeg Jets?
Taking home the majority of votes with 61.1 percent was Josh Morrissey. The 28-year-old defenceman is under contract through the 2027-28 season and enjoyed a 76-point campaign in 2022-23, which gave him some media attention. He played a big role as a leader and assistant captain last season, which was especially evident during a 4-2 win against the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 30, 2022. He is the younger, safer, fan-favourite option to become the franchise’s next captain.
Coming in second was Adam Lowry at 28.5 percent. As an assistant captain, his leadership was most valuable in the playoffs when he was one of the Jets’ best players. He stepped up in a big way by scoring big goals, which kept the Jets afloat after injuries to Scheifele, Morrissey, and plenty of others. However, he is older than Morrissey and only signed for the next three seasons.
However, 9.7 percent of fans agreed that entering another season without a captain and multiple alternate captains is a good option. I think the Jets would greatly benefit from having a captain, especially since Blake Wheeler is no longer with the club. The team struggled with leadership down the stretch when they slid from atop the Western Conference to a wild-card spot, and a true leader could help mitigate those massive emotional swings.
#5 – Do Hellebuyck & Scheifele Remain with the Jets Through 2023-24?
Scheifele and Hellebuyck are entering the final year of their contract. It’s the top question surrounding the team this season and one that has divided the fanbase. There were four options presented in this question: Hellebuyck stays, Scheifele leaves; Scheifele stays, Hellebuyck leaves; both stay; both leave.
39.2 percent of fans voted that both Scheifele and Hellebuyck will not finish the season as members of the organization. As pending UFAs, they will have plenty of leverage, and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hand may be forced at the deadline to avoid risking losing these two players for nothing.
Second place was the opposite, with 22.9 percent voting that both will stay at least until the end of the season. This is a likely option, as the Jets could remain competitive by the deadline and keep them for a playoff run, despite their contract status. This is an incredibly risky option and one that would leave the Jets’ management susceptible to plenty of criticism.
The next two options were Scheifele staying and Hellebuyck being traded, which 19.6 percent of people chose, and Hellebuyck staying with Scheifele being traded, which 18.3 percent of people voted for. I think the first scenario is more likely, as the Jets’ lack of centre depth could result in Scheifele signing a medium-term extension.
If the majority is correct on everything, this is how the 2023-24 season will play out: the Jets miss the playoffs and decline from the 95-point mark they set a season ago. Vilardi wins the second-line centre role out of training camp, and 4-5 players hit the 20+ goal mark. Morrissey is named captain and both Hellebuyck and Scheifele are traded before the season ends. The NHL is full of surprises, and the Jets might be the team that surprises the most with their decision-making this season.