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.