The Winnipeg Jets are set for quite a busy and crucial February after the revised schedule was released Wednesday.
Jets Games Have Been Few and Far Between Lately
Since Dec. 19, one month ago, the Jets have played just six times. At one point, they had two weeks between games, and at another, one week between games.
Over the past month, nine games — six home, three away — were postponed for reasons including COVID-19 outbreaks on opposition teams, pre-Christmas cross-border travel concerns, and attendance restrictions imposed by the Manitoba government.
The games postponed were were:
- Dec. 21 @ Nashville Predators
- Dec. 22 @ Dallas Stars
- Dec. 27 vs. Minnesota Wild
- Dec. 29 vs. Chicago Blackhawks
- Dec. 31 @ Calgary Flames
- Jan. 8 vs. Seattle Kraken
- Jan. 10 vs. Minnesota Wild
- Jan. 15 vs. Ottawa Senators
- Jan. 16 vs. Edmonton Oilers
The hope in delaying the home games was that the Omicron wave would have subsided enough later in the season to have at least some fans in Canada Life Centre. Manitoba’s public health orders allow a maximum of 250 attendees, but those orders expire Feb. 1.
The home games on Jan. 25 vs. the Florida Panthers and Thursday Jan. 27 vs. Vancouver will be played, with 125 season-ticket holders randomly selected for each game and provided an opportunity to purchase two tickets.
February Goes From “On a Break” to “Make or Break”
The Jets will play eight of nine of those postponed games in a 14-day span, during time NHLers were supposed to go to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (The game against the Senators won’t be made up until late March.)
The eight-game slate begins after the All-Star break, at home against the Wild on Feb. 8. Back-to-back road games versus the Stars and Predators on Feb. 11 and Feb. 12. will follow.
Then, they’ll return to Winnipeg for a four-game home stand, welcoming the Blackhawks, Wild, Kraken, and Oilers between Feb. 14 and Feb. 19. The jaunt Calgary to face the Flames on Feb. 21 will tack a fourth game onto the front of what was a regularly-scheduled three-game road trip through Dallas, Colorado, and Arizona.
The importance of success during this stretch can not be understated. By the time the February slate of make-up games is done, the Jets will have played 50 games. It will be pretty clear by then — given five of the make-up games are Central Division clashes — if they are destined to make the playoffs.
New Testing Protocols Will Decrease Chance of Further Schedule Disruptions
The NHL has followed the lead of the NFL and NBA and on Tuesday, loosened its COVID-19 testing protocols. After the All-Star break, routine testing of fully-vaccinated asymptomatic players will cease (all players on NHL active rosters are vaccinated except Tyler Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings.)
Testing will continue only on a limited “for cause” basis for players and staff who develop symptoms or require testing for cross-border travel.
This move will limit the chance of further postponements due to o players entering COVID protocol after having an asymptomatic positive test. It will also give the NHL a chance to finish the season on time and with some shred of competitive integrity still intact.
The Jets dealt with a COVID outbreak earlier this month, with Dylan DeMelo, Declan Chisholm, Jansen Harkins, Nikolaj Ehlers, Nathan Beaulieu, Ville Heinola, Logan Stanley, Kristian Reichel, Paul Stastny, Eric Comrie, and Brenden Dillon all testing positive.
Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler tested positive in October, while Andrew Copp and Kristian Vesalainen tested positive in December.
Players who test positive for COVID are exempt from testing for 90 days after infection, “but symptom-based testing can still be done at the team physician’s discretion,” the NHL says. Aside from injuries to Ehlers, David Gustafsson, CJ Suess, Evgeni Svechnikov, and Wheeler (Svechnikov is considered day-to-day and Wheeler is pushing hard to return soon), the Jets should be fairly healthy by the time they enter this crucial stretch.
But before that, they have to focus on just as pivotal a stretch — the seven games still to go before the All-Star break.
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Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.