One month into the season and the most recent NHL power rankings released by TSN (Nov. 7) has the Winnipeg Jets ranked as the fifth-best team in the league. Whether this is sustainable for the full season or not, remains to be seen.
There’s no question the Jets have turned some heads and raised some eyebrows through their first 11 games. A team most pundits labelled as cellar dwellers has turned things around, and their play has caught the eye of more than just the local Jets fan. However, it bears reason to ask, can they maintain their current level of play throughout the remaining 87% of the season? Here are three reasons why they can.
Regardless of the X’s and O’s with the differences he has brought to Winnipeg, in terms of strategies and game plans, the X-Factor surrounding head coach Rick Bowness is his ability to communicate and make his players feel valued. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning’s superstar defenseman, had nothing but praise for Bowness during his five-year stint as associate coach. He claims Bowness is a major reason his game and career elevated to its current level.
Bowness ran Tampa Bay’s defence for five seasons, creating a stabilizing presence for Hedman as he established himself as a superstar. The two got to know each other on a personal level. Hedman says Bowness built their relationship by making him feel cared for and making him feel heard.– Murat Ates (from: “What’s Rick Bowness bringing to the Winnipeg Jets? Inside stories from his 5 decades as an NHL coach”, The Athletic, 05/11/2022)
Hedman said, “he was very good at communicating what he thought and understanding what I thought. It was a two-way street. I’m forever indebted to him for what he meant to my career.”
In that same article, when he was asked about Bowness, Mark Scheifele agreed with Hedman explaining, “it’s not, ‘this is what it is: go do it because I said so’. It’s a conversation: ‘what is everyone feeling?’ You don’t know what the problem is until you ask and I think Bones has been great about that since he got hired. He wants to know what the problem is, he wants to know what is going on and what is happening.”
The effect Bowness has had on Scheifele has been remarkable. The player who sounded frustrated and angry at the end of last season has been the polar opposite this season. He has taken on the role of leader, and every sound bite from him resonates with positivity.
The results have been there to match the rhetoric. Scheifele started the season with six goals in his first eight games and has been a force on offense in every game this season. However, it’s been at the defensive end that he has markedly improved.
He has been more engaged in the 200-foot game and has bought into Bowness’ new style of defense-first play. His plus/minus rating is currently minus-2, which is just below average on the team, not bad considering he plays more than anyone. Also, the Jets as a whole have allowed 27 goals thus far, which is tied for the lowest in the NHL. As Scheifele goes, so do the Jets, and evidence is showing that a defensive shift is happening for both player and team.
Jets Have Been Inconsistent
The Jets have a 7-3-1 record which is second in the Central Division only two points behind the Dallas Stars. It’s obvious they have a newness about them and play with an excitement Jets fans haven’t seen since the 2018 playoff run. Head coach Bowness and his newly installed system of playing fast, simple, and in straight lines is showing some early dividends. But the transition away from the Paul Maurice era is a work in progress.
Although they have earned points in six consecutive games, they haven’t always played well. They were exceptional in a 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues, then went on a western road trip and played poorly. Connor Hellebuyck was the reason they defeated the Los Angeles Kings and the only reason they got a single point in Las Vegas when the Golden Knights completely outplayed them. They had a slow start against the Arizona Coyotes, falling behind 2-0 in the first period before winning in overtime. They literally stole five out of six points on a trip they barely deserved any.
Connor Hellebuyck’s brick wall costume was incredibly accurate yesterday at T-Mobile Arena.— Ben Gotz (@BenSGotz) October 31, 2022
One bit of magic from Jack Eichel made the Knights winners anyway.https://t.co/XKL8lgfCXU
The former Jets coaching staff would have played off the road trip as, “any win is a good win” or “we’re fighting the fight”, and gloss over the fact they played terrible hockey. This version is different, they heard about their poor play from Bowness and the message was absorbed.
“Not great,” is how Connor described that feedback. “We feel it, too. We’re all aware of it. We were lucky to get away with some of the points that we did. A lot of it stems from our starts. We’re just coming out sluggish. And I really don’t think we’ve played a great game this year. Maybe against St. Louis is our one game where we played a full 60. But just inconsistent everywhere.”– Kyle Connor (from: “JETS SNAPSHOTS: Connor mired in longest drought in years … players agree current formula for success not sustainable”, Winnipeg Sun, 02/11/2022)
In the same article, Nate Schmidt agreed with Connor saying, “you’re standing here smiling on a day where you get five of six points but it easily could have been one out of six. That’s the understanding of the mirror, the understanding of where you’re at as a team and where your game is.”
The Jets are in the midst of a transformation as a team. They have played inconsistently this season, but find themselves in second place in the Central Division. Considering the high degree of difficulty at the start of their schedule, and what most people anticipated from the Jets, 7-3-1 is an impressive record. Do they deserve a top-5 rank? That’s subjective, but they certainly deserve consideration. Will they stay there? They possess the skill and ability to maintain it, but they need to play more consistently as the transition to Bowness’ style of play takes hold. Time will tell, but with the coach and Scheifele on the same page and a team wanting to play better, there is no telling how well this team can. I do know this… they will continue to turn heads and raise eyebrows in the process.
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Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.