An unexpected weeklong break could be just what the Winnipeg Jets need get back on track.
The Jets were scheduled to play back-to-back games — in Nashville Tuesday and in Dallas Wednesday — before a four-day Christmas break. But it turns out they’ll be singing “there’s no place like home for the holidays” early instead.
The NHL had already decided Saturday to shut down the Predators through Christmas due to the team having eight players and several coaches in COVID-19 protocol.
On Sunday afternoon, the NHL decided to postpone all games involving cross-border travel from Dec. 20 through Dec. 23, due to an increase in positive COVID tests league-wide and uncertainly surrounding federal travel regulations in the wake of the Omicron variant.
This will be a pre-Christmas lump of coal to all the fans who had tickets for these games, of course. But for the Jets, who now won’t play again until Dec. 27, it’s a true gift.
Break Will Give a Jets Team In Flux Opportunity to Reset
The Jets beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday, but there’s no doubt they’re a struggling squad failing to live up to high expectations after a strong offseason by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. At 14-11-5, they have not had much by the way of sustained success and have won just five of their last 15 games.
The wheels of change spun hard in the organization last week, as on Friday, head coach Paul Maurice resigned after nine years at the helm. Less than 12 hours after Maurice spoke openly about losing his passion and the need for a new voice to get the team to the next level, interim head coach Dave Lowry was overseeing his first game as bench boss against the Washington Capitals.
Lowry got win #1 out of the way Sunday, but you can bet he is relishing the additional time he now has to work with his players in his new role considering he’s had just one practice with his team thus far. He’ll now have two practices (Tuesday and Wednesday) and time to spend considering line combinations changes he wants to make.
Sticking with the status-quo Maurice regime that became stale, predictable, and made a talented group of players less than the sum of its parts is not an option.
It’s also likely every Jets’ player could use some time to breathe and reflect on the new era that’s upon them, and what they need to do to ensure they’re successful playing Lowry’s way.
Jets Will Get Time to Nurse Mounting Injuries
Speaking of line combinations, the Jets’ on Sunday were a bit slapdash as they deal a number of sudden injuries.
Up front, David Gustafsson — in his season debut — and Evgeny Svechnikov both left Friday’s game against the Capitals with injuries and did not return. Neither of them suited up Sunday, with Dave Lowry saying Gustafsson is day-to-day while Svechnikov will be out longer.
The Jets are also without Blake Wheeler, who was placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve after suffering a serious lower-body injury Dec. 10 against the Vancouver Canucks.
As a result of this spate of bad luck, Kyle Connor skated on the top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kristian Vesalainen, who got a promotion from the bottom-six. Paul Stastny, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers comprised the second line, which Lowry may want to give another look as they combined for three goals and four assists Sunday.
Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry, and Dominic Toninato made up the third line, while Jansen Harkins played on the fourth with two players with just one combined NHL game — CJ Suess and Kristian Reichel, who made his NHL debut.
On the back end, the Jets were without Nate Schmidt due to illness. The Jets have no players in COVID protocol currently, but the Manitoba Moose are dealing with an outbreak that saw them shut down by the AHL through Christmas and the final three games of a five-game road trip postponed.
The Moose outbreak and some of these injuries will hopefully be resolved by the time next Monday’s matchup with the Minnesota Wild comes around, and if they are, it will put the Jets in the best possible position to get back into in the Central Division playoff picture.
Everyone Deserves a Break After a Hectic Year
2021 has been a wild year to be an NHLer. They played a whirlwind 56-game season from January through mid-May with strict protocols in place and limited contact with the outside world or family and friends. Even then, outbreaks disrupted best-laid plans.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs didn’t end until July 7, and things didn’t slow down at all during a protracted offseason where Free Agent Frenzy, the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, and Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft all went down in a three-week span.
The first third of this season has not exactly gone smoothly, with plenty more outbreaks, postponements, 2022 Olympic participation in doubt, and some venues now closing to fans again or cutting capacity.
The life of a professional athlete is a privileged one, no question, even during a pandemic. But money and passion for the game doesn’t keep the men from missing their families when their team goes out on the road, nor does it keep their families from missing them while they’re away, especially during the holidays.
They’ll be home for Christmas, not only in their dreams. As Clark Griswold said before everything went off the rails during his old-fashioned family christmas: “the most enduring traditions of the season are best enjoyed in the warm embrace of kith and kin.”
Declan Schroeder is a 26-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.