As crucial as it was to make the playoffs for the first time since returning to Winnipeg, the 2015-16 season is even bigger for the Jets.
After years of frustration, management’s slow-and-steady approach showed serious returns, but the franchise is heading toward multiple forks in the road.
Let’s consider some of the big factors ahead.
Contract years for key players – Hockey fans can debate whether Dustin Byfuglien’s the biggest name on the Jets or not, but he’s the earth-shaking wild card. Andrew Ladd is the gritty, stable winger who might just be the polar opposite. They’ve been immensely important players in Winnipeg, but what does the future hold?
Aging core – It’s easy to look at 21-year-old Jacob Trouba and 22-year-old Mark Scheifele and picture a bright future, especially with a generally well-regarded farm system.
For all the future talk, it’s a make-or-break season for the current crop of key players. Byfuglien is 30, Ladd is 29, Blake Wheeler is 28 and Bryan Little is 27.
Those core players aren’t ancient, but management probably needs to see them win some playoff games (or even series) to justify keeping the band together.
Goalie question – To especially weary Winnipegers, Ondrej Pavelec’s contract probably feels endless, and it does still have two years remaining. Management is sticking with Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson, which is a short-term gamble. Are they any closer to making a decision that reaches a little further?
The Jets have some big questions to answer next season, yet let’s not forget: Winnipeg hasn’t been home to an NHL team with this sort of potential for a long, long time.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
Is Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien really a changed man? (Sportsnet)
Speaking of changes, Alex Burmistrov discusses the ones he went through in two years away from Winnipeg. (TSN)
Jacques Lemaire explains why he left the New Jersey Devils. (Newark Star-Ledger)
So, how is the “Shana-plan” going? (Toronto Sun)
Martin Jones’ new lid.
NHL fans aren’t the only people cringing at the thought of advertisements being placed on uniforms. Blake Wheeler isn’t on board with the idea, either:
Speaking of hockey sweaters, check out this clash of two great logos outside of the NHL. (The Hockey News)
The Lahti Pelicans of Finland’s top league announced that they have signed Ryan Potulny.
The 30-year-old forward is a product of the University of Minnesota and was a finalist for the 2005-06 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. He recorded 38 goals and 63 points in 41 NCAA contests that season while playing on a team that also featured Phil Kessel, Alex Goligoski, and Blake Wheeler.
The Philadelphia Flyers took him with the 87th overall pick in 2003. He has 22 goals and 49 points in 126 NHL contests with the Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Edmonton Oilers.
At his height, he scored 15 goals and 32 points in 64 games with Edmonton in 2009-10.
He spent the 2014-15 campaign with the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack, scoring two goals and five points in 25 games.
The Winnipeg Jets might look back on this series with the Anaheim Ducks and see a number of missed opportunities that proved costly.
The Jets held third-period leads in each of the first three games, and couldn’t hold on. The Ducks led the league in third-period comebacks during the regular season, and continued that trend in this series.
On Wednesday, the Ducks silenced the Jets with a 5-2 win in Winnipeg. The Ducks are off to the second round after completing the sweep.
“Every time we gained an inch, they came back with two. It was just one of those things. It was an even series,” said Blake Wheeler, as per Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun.
As the final seconds ticked down, the fans, clad in white, stood to salute their team. Their team saluted the fans following the handshake. It’s been 19 years since a Stanley Cup playoff game took place in that city and Jets fans were loud from start to finish during Games 3 and 4.
A force in Game 3, Ryan Kesler showed up in similar fashion in the clincher, scoring twice in the third period, including the winner less than seven minutes into the third period.
The Jets made a game of it.
As the fans stood up, trying to give their team a push, Mark Stuart scored on a point shot right off a faceoff to get Winnipeg within a goal and with more than nine minutes left to find the equalizer.
But Kesler finished it off, killing any chance of a comeback with his second of the period.
Rickard Rakell will go down in the history books.
Not only did the 21-year-old center score the overtime winner against the Winnipeg Jets in a Game 3 victory for the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, silencing a crowd and a city that hadn’t hosted a Stanley Cup playoff game in 19 years, he became the youngest player in franchise history to score an OT playoff goal, as per the league.
Meanwhile, the Jets once again felt the pain of defeat. On home ice, too, with a crowd that was loud and clad almost completely in white.
Three times in this series, the Jets have had the lead in the third period. Three times, they’ve lost. They’re now facing elimination and a possible sweep.
“Yeah, it’s hard. It’ just more of the same. We lead the whole damn series and we’re 0-3. That’s the way it goes. That’s hockey. We just have to find a way to get that first one,” Jets forward Blake Wheeler told the Winnipeg Sun.
“Don’t allow them to score. If we had a better answer, it would probably be 3-0 right now. You’ve got to win four games. We’ve won four in a row before. The first one’s going to be the hardest one, apparently. So just lick our wounds tonight. It’s going to hurt obviously, and the sun’s going to rise tomorrow and we have to refocus for Game 4.”