All told, NHL hockey has been a part of the culture of the city of Winnipeg for over 25 years. In that time, there have been quite a few highs and lows for the team and their fans, as is expected with any franchise. Unfortunately, for the Jets faithful, there have been quite a few more low points than high. Aside from the usual turmoil, such as trading away a franchise player, or never quite getting the goaltending needed for true success, the biggest disappointments have always sprung from the team’s playoff history. To be more specific, the general lack of a history.
During their tenure in Winnipeg, the Jets have made the playoffs a total of thirteen times. Of those thirteen appearances, only two have come since they returned to the city in 2012. Though that may seem like a pretty fair record, only twice did the team get past the first round. Both of these took place during the mid-eighties, and both ended in four-game sweeps by the Edmonton Oilers.
Luckily, we live in different times, and this latest incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets sits poised to have a long and fruitful run in the postseason. After their recent shootout win against the division rival Nashville Predators, the Jets have clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. On top of that, the team has also earned their first-ever 100 point season after starting the year very strong and then settling in with consistent play almost every night.
The thing that makes this season so different is the fact that they are playing like a complete team, with solid depth at every position and a strong farm system. Add to this the great performances being put on by some of their stars, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
In only his second year in the NHL, Patrik Laine is already working on his quest to become the greatest Jet of all time, leading the team in goals and challenging for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s goal leader, all while on the second line. He won’t become the team’s best ever easily though, since Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are both hot on Laine’s heels with career years of their own.
Filling up the supporting role quite nicely is rookie Kyle Connor, who is now tied for the rookie lead in goals with 29. After a disappointing campaign last season, he is making the most of his second chance and helping to propel the team toward glory.
No Longer Crippled by Injury
The Jets have always had problems dealing with long-term injuries to some of their key players, and in the past, this has hurt them considerably. This year, after quality management of their developmental team, the Manitoba Moose, things are looking very different. The players that have been called up in times of need have, for the most part, outperformed expectations. Case in point, the team’s defensive core has suffered quite a bit, with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, and Tobias Enstrom all going down for significant periods. While they were clearly missed, it didn’t really alter the Jet’s winning ways, as each of their replacements has done their part.
While this doesn’t cure the team of their injury woes, it does help to soften the blow and keep them in the thick of things at the very least until the core players can resume their role.
Over the past four decades, true Winnipeg Jets fans have not had a lot to celebrate. The previous incarnation of the team could never come together enough for a deep run, usually being eliminated by Edmonton or Vancouver. In their final season before moving to Phoenix, they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in six games. Hopes were renewed in 2012 after it was announced that the former Atlanta Thrashers would move to the city and take up the mantle. Unfortunately, so far this hasn’t been the case. In 2014-15, the team lost badly to the Anaheim Ducks, being swept in four games.
Hopefully, that is all going to change come April. With a spot in the playoffs assured and second place in the Central Division all but locked up, they now have some time to focus the postseason. This means keeping their current roster healthy while possibly welcoming the return of some of their players from injury.
Everything is falling into place at exactly the right time, which is something that the Winnipeg Jets and their fans have never experienced. As long as they keep playing the way they have all year, with a little luck, they could be hoisting up the Stanley Cup come June. If nothing else, the fans deserve it.
I’m a contributing writer, father, husband, and all-around nuisance to my family. I get to write about the things I love without having to leave my house.