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2011-12 season preview: Winnipeg Jets

2010-11 record (as the Atlanta Thrashers): 34-36-12, 80 points; 4th in Southeast, 12th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

To some, it might be appropriate to throw out last season. The Atlanta Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets, transforming a team in a non-traditional (but huge) market into a second opportunity for a small but rapid Canadian market to support an NHL team. Kevin Cheveldayoff is the new general manager, Claude Noel will be the new coach and the jerseys and arena will be totally different.

That being said, the roster remains largely the same. They’ll just be playing with a bigger home-ice advantage and the higher level of scrutiny (honeymoon stage or not) that comes with it.

Offense

Normally it’s reasonable to keep defensemen out of this category, but when has Dustin Byfuglien been normal? The hybrid blueliner can play a wing or defensive position, but the general idea is the same: he should bull his way around the ice and unleash his terrifying slap shot without hesitation. Byfuglien earned an All-Star appearance with a blazing first half before falling apart in the second half. He may be a defenseman (or the Jets might decide to move him back to forward), but there’s no denying that he’s the catalyst of this team’s attack.

The rest of the forwards are rounded out by some players with size (Eric Fehr, Nik Antropov), guys who’ve had one strong season but need to prove they can do it again (Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd) and promising youngsters with unclear potential (Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov). It might be hard to deny 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele a spot in the lower end of the lineup, if the team decides that he’s better off in that role at the NHL level (instead of getting higher profile reps at a lower level).

On paper, the Jets’ attack isn’t too frightening, but a lot of wild cards are at play.

Defense

For all the blustery praise about Byfuglien, he wasn’t quite the same when his talented scoring partner Tobias Enstrom got banged up. The small Swede put together two consecutive 50-plus point seasons that largely went under the radar because of the Thrashers’ woes. He should get some well-deserved attention if he puts together another strong campaign, even if he might get lost in Buffy’s shadow.

Zach Bogosian has been a disappointment so far – he’s seemingly an unshaped form of clay but has all the tools you’d hope for in a future star defenseman. It’s the intangibles such as hockey IQ that keep holding him back, but perhaps a change of scenery might help him reach his first-round potential.

Ron Hainsey is a three-time 30-plus point defenseman, but his scoring numbers keep tumbling. That’s not a huge problem with the offensive gems this team could sport from the blue line, as long as he uses his size to continue to improve in his own end.

Overall, defense is a strength for Winnipeg – at least from the perspective of scoring points. The Jets’ weakness though is keeping the puck out of their own net.

Goalies

Both Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason are in contract years, so each guy has a lot on the line. Pavelec hopes to show that his flashes of potential can turn into seasons full of sustained success while Mason needs to prove that he deserves to continue working at the NHL level.

Pavelec was outstanding at times last season, although consistency might be the key (that or not getting too frustrated with a defense that might hang him out to dry more often than other goalies). Mason produced some solid work in St. Louis and Nashville, so the Jets have reason to believe that he’ll bounce back from a rough season in which he sported an ugly .892 save percentage.

Coaching

Sure, he coached the Columbus Blue Jackets on an interim basis in 2009-10, but in the grand scheme of things, this is Claude Noel’s first real chance at a coaching job. Craig Ramsay did a nice job of getting the most out of an unusual roster, so Noel has his work cut out for him. Finding the right balance between getting the most out of the team’s greatest strengths (youth and dangerous offensive defensemen) and limiting the drawbacks of their weaknesses (such as the mistakes that come from being so aggressive) remains key. Perhaps his years as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant will influence him in a positive way.

Breakout candidate

Sure, he hasn’t been totally under the radar in his first two seasons – people still revere him for knocking out Matt Cooke – but Kane seems primed for a leap. Maybe it’s because he received Bobby Hull’s blessing to wear number 9 or perhaps it’s just the natural maturation of a power forward, but there are some who believe he could flirt with 30 goals this season.

Best-case scenario

Some might argue that this team should stock up on prospects, but honestly, the people of Winnipeg would go insane over a playoff run in the first year. The best-case scenario would involve the team earning a postseason bid thanks to an All-Star season from Pavelec, dynamic work from Byfuglien and a score-by-committee approach from their offense.

Reality

The Jets feature a strange mixture of players. The ceiling seems fairly modest (sixth seed), but it’s not crazy to at least think about a playoff run of some kind. On the bright side, fans would probably let a rough season slide, so the Jets are in as close to a win-win situation as an NHL team can enjoy.

That being said, winning is always appreciated, too.

Sakic, Selanne, Koivu, Krupp named to IIHF Hall of Fame

24 Feb 2002:  Joe Sakic #91 of Canada celebrates his assist on teammate Jarome Iginla's goal on goaltendr Mike Richter #35 of the USA during the first period of the men's ice hockey gold medal game during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the E Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit:  Al Bello/Getty Images
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This year’s International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame class is star-studded — to say the least.

Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu and Uwe Krupp headline the list of six inductees, which also includes former U.S. women’s team star Angela Ruggiero and Austrian hockey exec Dieter Kalt.

Sakic, Selanne and Koivu were locks for induction — Sakic is one of a handful of players in the Triple Gold Club (Olympics, World Championship, Stanley Cup) while Selanne and Koivu are arguably the two greatest Finnish players of all time.

Krupp, described by the IIHF as “the finest hockey player Germany has ever produced,” was the first German-born player in NHL history to both win the Stanley Cup, and score a Cup-winning goal. He also coached the national team from 2006 to 2011, helping it qualify for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Ruggiero is regarded as one of the best female players of all time. She won medals at four different Olympic games and helped the U.S. win four World Championships. In 2015, she was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Smith tears into Coyotes after ‘blah’ performance in Edmonton

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 21:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes sprays water in his face during a break from the second period of the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Gila River Arena on December 21, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Oilers defeated the Coyotes 3-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Last night in Edmonton, the Arizona Coyotes did what they normally do.

They lost.

But unlike previous losses this season, this one felt different. And afterwards, their veteran goalie really let them have it.

“You could feel it on the ice,” Mike Smith said after the 3-1 defeat, per Reuters. “We were just playing, and it was blah. It was blah. And you can’t expect to play like that and compete against a really good hockey team. That’s what we did tonight. We have to learn from it. Sooner or later, this organization’s got to move forward and not continue to have games like this.”

At 13-24-6, the Coyotes are already out of the playoff race. It’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 26-7-6 to qualify for the postseason, and that just isn’t going to happen.

Smith wasn’t alone in lambasting his team last night. The head coach, Dave Tippett, said it was “as poor as we’ve played” in the last month.

Suffice to say, it has been a disappointing season for the Coyotes. Though outside expectations were not particularly high for this group, they were much higher internally.

“Our team is looking to try and make the playoffs this year,” forward Max Domi said back in October. “We’re looking forward to the challenge and it’s going to be a lot of fun. The new faces are going to help us out a lot and some guys coming back are going to do the same things they did last year and more.”

Alas, the “new faces” have not been able to make the Coyotes competitive. Alex Goligoski was the big offseason addition. But the 31-year-old defenseman got off to a frustrating start with his new team, and though things have improved slightly since, the jury’s still out on the decision to give him a five-year contract worth $27.375 million.

With pending unrestricted free agents in Shane Doan, Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata, Ryan White, and Michael Stone, the Coyotes should be an interesting team to watch as the trade deadline approaches.

That being said, this is not an organization that needs more prospects, more draft picks. This is an organization that needs to start turning the corner.

“It’s a privilege to play in this league and put the Coyotes sweater on,” said an exasperated Smith. “I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I can talk for myself, and know that every game I go into I want to give myself the best chance to play at my best. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but we’ve got too many guys who aren’t doing enough to push this thing along.”

Related: Keller, Strome to meet in gold-medal game at World Juniors 

B’s cancel practice after ‘unacceptable’ loss to Isles

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 02: Head coach Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins gives instructions to Brandon Carlo #25 during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 2, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s fair to say not a single Bruin involved in yesterday’s 4-0 home loss to the Isles was happy with the performance.

Patrice Bergeron called it “unacceptable,” head coach Claude Julien said the B’s were “totally out of whack,” and David Backes said the game was “as frustrating as it gets.”

Sounds like the team in need of a break.

So on Tuesday, it took one:

These are trying times for the B’s. The club’s struggled to find any sort of consistency since the calendar turned to 2017:

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Consistency, or a lack thereof, seems to be the biggest issue. Wins are almost always followed up with losses and, just one game after the victory over Philly — a game in which the B’s said their offense was finally “starting to connect” — they failed to put a single puck past Thomas Greiss.

Despite all this, Boston still sits in reasonably good shape standings-wise. The Bruins are second in the Atlantic Division, on 51 points, but are only three clear of three teams in their rear view: Toronto, Ottawa and Florida, http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/bruins/bruins_insider/2017/01/bruins_fall_flat_in_matinee_loss_to_islanders

Landeskog saying all the right things as trade speculation heats up

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 17:  Gabriel Landeskog #92 of the Colorado Avalanche looks on during a break in the action against the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center on February 17, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Canadiens 3-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Landeskog knows his name is out there in trade rumors. But until he’s dealt — if he’s dealt — all he can do is keep doing his thing as captain of the Colorado Avalanche.

And for the record, he doesn’t want to be traded.

“Whether my name is floating around or not, I’m still approaching the game the same way,” Landeskog said Monday, per the Denver Post. “And that is to spread energy, be a good teammate, work hard and try to get better every day. Me being in trade rumors, that’s nothing I can control.”

It’s been reported that the Avs are asking a big price for the 24-year-old winger, a former second overall draft pick. It remains to be seen if they’ll be willing to lower it. Not too long ago, Landeskog was an untouchable in Colorado. In 2012, he was made captain at 19 years old, just after he’d been named the NHL’s rookie of the year.

But the Avs have fallen off a cliff since Landeskog put up a career-high 65 points in 2013-14, the same season Colorado shocked the hockey world and won the Central Division. So far this season, he has just 14 points (8G, 6A) in 31 games, and the Avs are the NHL’s worst team.

Landeskog is signed through 2020-21 for a cap hit of almost $5.6 million. The assumption is that the Avs will use Landeskog or Matt Duchene, or even both of them, to fix a defense that badly needs fixing, then rebuild around forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Tyson Jost.

That will be easier said than done, but the Avs (13-27-1) have to do something, because whatever they’re doing now isn’t working.

Related: Fixing the Avs through trades will prove tough