Winnipeg Jets’ travel schedule shouldn’t be too tough after all

Once it became clear that the Winnipeg Jets would remain in the Southeast Division, many people believed that their far-from-southeastern location would make their 2011-12 season extremely difficult. (Both for themselves and for opponents, particularly in their division.)

As it turns out, the NHL’s schedule makers didn’t beat them up too badly. According to Dirk Hoag’s mileage figures, there are nine NHL teams who will rack up more frequent flyer miles next season. The Jets’ overall miles traveled should be around 44,627, which is just 548 more than they endured during the 10-11 campaign.

With that in mind, it’s pretty reasonable that the team is downplaying the impact that traveling will have on their first year back in Winnipeg. In fact, the biggest thing they might have to complain about is their preseason schedule.

“Not many teams travel more than 7½ hours in the exhibition season and we’re in the 23-hour range,” said Jets assistant general manager and director of hockey operations Craig Heisinger. “But, hey, we inherited this schedule and we’ve got to get through these situations.”

(snip)

“Is it the best schedule? No. Is it the worst? No,” said Heisinger. “But the other part of all this is the other teams have to come all this way to play us as well. They may be more encumbered by it because they haven’t had to do it, especially in the East, until we got dropped in their lap.

“We’re probably more happy to deal with it than they are. I don’t know if it’s an advantage for us – I haven’t looked at the travel of other teams – but maybe our attitude toward it will be different than those who had this forced upon them.”

For another season, the Western Conference features more teams that have to deal with tougher travel arrangements. The Florida Panthers are the only other Eastern Conference team in the top 10 in expected travel miles, as they’ll rack up the second most at 52,751 (second only to the Los Angeles Kings’ 55,591).

A quick look at the Jets’ toughest stretches

So does this mean that the Jets will be a long way from home during considerable stretches to make their schedule more reasonable? Here’s a quick glance at some of their more challenging runs.

The season begins with a challenging first couple months. They’ll play four of their first six games on the road, then two games at home followed by a seven-game road trip between October and November. The other big run of road games happens between January and February. They’ll start 2012 with four road games with a middle area that mixes up home and away dates until they reach late January, which includes a stretch in which they play eight of nine games on the road into mid-February.

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Most NHL teams have a trying month or two, so if the Jets can maintain a level altitude through a pair of tough runs, they could have a puncher’s chance of making their first year in Winnipeg a competitive one. If nothing else, jet lag won’t be much of an excuse for the Jets in 11-12.

Maple Leafs may look to Russia to improve defense (again)

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Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Toronto Maple Leafs confirmed that Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello recently made a visit to Russia, but they didn’t admit why they went.

It turns out that they were scoping out KHL defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, who plays for CSKA, according to Johnston and others.

Ozhiganov, 24, did not go drafted. He does, however, have some interesting NHL connections. For one thing, he suited up for the same team that Nikita Zaitsev did, so that experiment has already worked out quite well for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

As you can see from the tweet above, Ozhiganov will play in the KHL through 2017-18. That’s impressive due diligence from the Leafs’ brass, although you wonder if such maneuverings might put the defenseman higher on the radars of other teams hoping to add depth to their bluelines in the future.

Raw Charge notes that Ozhiganov is a buddy of Tampa Bay Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, who definitely sings the defenseman’s praises. Even with Mikhail Sergachev in the mix, the Bolts are a group that will probably want to bolster their mix (especially in the uncomfortably likely event that Dan Girardi disappoints).

Either way, NHL fans will need to wait at least a season to see what Ozhiganov is capable of … and where he lands.

Devils give Jimmy Hayes a shot with PTO

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The New Jersey Devils have made dramatic moves to improve their forward group over the last few years, but even with Taylor Hall, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri in the mix, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

With that and the Devils’ recent struggles in mind, it only makes sense for GM Ray Shero to be open-minded to “reclamation projects.”

Perhaps that will be the case with towering forward Jimmy Hayes, then. The Devils announced that the winger has been invited to training camp on a PTO.

Look, there’s no doubt that Hayes has frequently struggled to make a difference at the NHL level. Not that long ago, he broke a 35-game pointless streak.

Still, it’s probably fair to give him an incomplete grade instead of a failing mark from 2016-17. After all, there are only so many players who can produce much offense when they’re receiving 9:14 TOI per game.

Hayes went from averaging 15:09 per contest in his best season (2014-15, when he scored 19 goals for Florida) to 13:50 TOI with Boston in 2015-16 and then that new low last season.

So, no doubt about it, Hayes’ stock couldn’t get much lower.

We’ve seen fringe guys become valuable assets after getting clean slates, including with bigger forwards. Zack Kassian resurrected his career following some significant struggles, just to name a recent example.

The Devils could use another NHL-caliber forward, particularly with valuable center Travis Zajac slated to miss a chunk of 2017-18. Maybe Hayes can be part of the solution.

No need for Flyers to rush Nolan Patrick after injury-plagued year

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This post is part of Flyers day at PHT…

It wasn’t long before Nolan Patrick began lighting up the Western Hockey League.

Two years before he was even selected second overall by the Philadelphia Flyers, he had scored 30 goals in his first full season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. A year later, he had 102 points, vaulting him into the position as the likely No. 1 overall pick for the 2017 Entry Draft.

Dating back more than a year, however, Patrick has been sidetracked by injury.

He underwent sports hernia surgery last summer. He played in only 33 games for Brandon this past season and couldn’t play for Canada at the World Juniors. In June, just prior to his selection by Philly, he had another operation — an abdominal surgery, the Flyers later announced — with a window of four to six weeks before he could resume full activity.

The Flyers had only a 2.2 per cent chance of winning the first overall selection, yet they still made a massive move up the board when the lottery had concluded. The first pick would come down to Patrick or Nico Hischier, who worked his way into the conversation for No. 1 overall as his QMJHL season continued.

In the end, the lottery-winning Devils took Hischier and Patrick fell right to the Flyers.

In Patrick, the Flyers get a center that stands at 6-foot-2 tall and 198 pounds, and is capable of producing significant numbers offensively — at least that’s what he showed in junior. Even if his 2016-17 season was hampered, Patrick still managed 20 goals and 46 points.

“And then playing and not being a 100 percent. I didn’t play one game this year feeling [like] myself. I’ve got the summer to get where I need to be,” said Patrick, per CSN Philly.

“My skating was kind of bugging me throughout the season. I needed to get my conditioning back to where I wanted it to be. I did as much as I could, but I wasn’t pouting about it.”

Patrick turns 19 years old next month during training camp and will look to make the Flyers for this upcoming season. Given everything he’s dealt with over the last several months, it would be, despite the talent that made him a top prospect in the draft, unreasonable to place lofty expectations on him right away, as he makes the transition into the NHL.

Having him healthy and ready for camp is a good start, but there really is no need to rush him along, particularly if it’s at the expense of future gains.

“We’re looking at the big picture here,” said general manager Ron Hextall earlier this summer, per the Courier-Post. “We’re not looking at next season. We’re looking at hopefully the next 10 to 15 seasons. We will do what’s best for Nolan long-term.”

Report: College free agent Alex Kerfoot opts to join Avalanche

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The wait appears to be over.

College free agent Alex Kerfoot has reportedly made his decision, choosing to join the Colorado Avalanche, according to Darren Dreger of TSN.

The news comes days after it was reported the New York Rangers were among the finalists to land the Harvard product, which would’ve provided a boost in depth at center for that club.

The 23-year-old center was also targeted by the Vancouver Canucks, which is hardly surprising given Kerfoot is from that area and played his junior hockey in nearby Coquitlam.

Kerfoot, originally drafted by the New Jersey Devils, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award this past season, after scoring 16 goals and 45 points in 36 games with Harvard.

He decided not to sign in New Jersey, becoming an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15.