Struggling Jets Face Uphill Climb in Western Conference Wild Card Race

The Winnipeg Jets face a long uphill climb to qualify for the playoffs and avoid a lost season.

The Jets came into the 2021-22 campaign considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but things haven’t gone according to plan through their first 42 games. They have struggled to find an identity, have had 17 different players out with COVID-19, saw their coach resign, and sit at a mediocre 18-17-7 through 42 games. They are losers of seven of their past eight.

Top Three in Central Out of the Question, but Wild Card Berth Still a Possibility

There’s still a lot of hockey to be played before the end of April, but the Jets have no realistic chance of finishing top three in the tough Central Division. At the All-Star break, they sit a distant 16 points behind the third-place Minnesota Wild.

Despite their often woeful play — especially through the past two months — the Dave Lowry-run squad is not out of the playoff picture yet. While they’re fast running out of runway and will need to sharply recalibrate, a Western Conference Wild Card berth is still in the realm of possibility.

Standings Are Log-jammed Ahead of Jets

However, they’ll have to leapfrog a lot of teams to get there.

The Jets are 13th in the Western Conference with 43 points and will not catch the first Wild Card team — currently the St. Louis Blues — who have 57 points.

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The Calgary Flames currently possess the second Wild Card spot with 52 points. Making up nine points in 40 games is not impossible, but not only do the Jets have to play better than the Flames, they have to play better than the Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, and Vancouver Canucks. Those squads all sit above the Jets, log-jammed between 49 and 46 points.

Western Conference Wild Card Standings at the All-Star Break.
The Western Conference Western Conference Wild Card standings are log-jammed ahead of the Jets. (From NHL.com)

The Jets have six games combined against those five clubs (the Stars thrice, the Flames twice, and the Oilers once.) They’re all must-wins. So are most of the 14 divisional matchups remaining on the Jets’ slate.

The Flames are through 42 games. If they keep up their current points pace, they’ll have 101.5 — let’s round up to 102 — by the time the season is through.

Yes, triple digits will be required for a chance at Lord Stanley’s Mug. To get to 102 points, the Jets need 59 more, which equates to 29-and-a-half wins, or fewer wins but very few regulation losses.

Unfortunately, their current play does not currently inspire much confidence they can accomplish this tall order.

Jets Have Much to Overcome

Indeed, the Jets will need to do a lot of things right in the second half. They’ll need more consistency, especially from their leadership. They’ll need less complacency. They’ll need to finish more of their Grade-A chances — they make every goaltender they face seem like the second coming of Dominik Hasek.

They’ll need to commit to a stouter defensive structure — as too many lapses and blown leads have costed them too dearly too often — and to better manage the run-ragged Connor Hellebuyck’s workload.

They’ll need to overcome a punishing schedule, which will see them play 40 games in just 81 days, including eight previously-postponed games in a 14-day span this month.

Dave Lowry Winnipeg Jets
Dave Lowry and the Jets will have to do a ton right in the second half to qualify for the playoffs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The schedule woes are mainly self-inflicted, as six home games were pushed back due to Manitoba’s public health orders that limit the number of fans in Canada Life Centre to 250. True North Sports & Entertainment rolled the dice hoping the Omicron wave would die down and more fans could attend later in the year. On Wednesday, the province announced public health orders will allow the Jets to have 50 per cent capacity beginning Feb. 8.

Related: Jets’ Revised Schedule Makes February a Crucial Month

But most of all, they’ll need to find an identity — like they did in seasons’ past, when “staying in the fight” through adversity became their mantra and made them a highly-likeable bunch. That identity needs to start with the head coach and leadership core — Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Josh Morrissey — and radiate downward.

If they can somehow do all that, playoffs are possible. If they continue their downward spiral, there should be wholesale changes in the offseason, if not at the Trade Deadline.