Another NHL season is just around the corner and on paper the Jets look pretty much the same as they finished last year, however the narrative around the team has very much changed in the last 12 months. Last October, fans were riding a high after the team appeared to fix their issues on defense during the offseason. Expectations started high, but by Christmas the defensive issues still plagued the team, Paul Maurice had quit and I had already chalked my Stanley cup futures bet as a loss. As the calendar moved through the early months of 2022 it was obvious Dave Lowry belongs somewhere in the WHL and rumors of locker room issues became an everyday topic of conversation between Jets fans. Amazingly, the team came together in the last 10 games and fans were treated with the best stretch they had played all year pulling them up the standings to finish with the worst draft pick possible. This was followed by an agonizingly awkward exit interview where Scheifele suggested he wanted out of Winnipeg to go to a “winning” team. Pierre-Luc Dubois, the only Jet that really looked like he found his stride last season and at this point the only viable replacement for Scheifele said he wants to play for Montreal, so it was safe to say things looked pretty bleak for the Jets.
The Jets, as usual, followed up their disappointing season with a characteristically quiet summer. Following suit with the bulk of NHL coaching hires the Jets decided they too would recycle a fossil of a coach whose career has probably run its course to fix the locker room issues and maybe bring in some defensive structure. Other than the coach hiring, the team’s biggest off season move was signing TSN reporter Sara Orlesky as some sort of TV host/producer which, while I am a fan of this move, it truly highlights the lack of ability for the Jets to get anything done in the offseason.
The club then announced last week that they had made the decision to strip Wheeler of the “C”, which just further confirms what we already knew- that the locker room is likely pretty divided and leadership group on this team is in need of some fresh faces.
While, this is a bit of a gamble, it’s a move I think Jets fans should like and could mark a new chapter for this team. Clearly, something needs to change with this leadership group and I think this move signals there will be some level of accountability going forward. This is something I never felt like was happening with Maurice constantly deflecting blame for poor play and lack of consistency elsewhere. It makes sense to leave the door open for someone new to take the reins considering Wheeler’s declining play and the inevitable roster turnover we are going to see in the next 12 to 18 months.
The Jets have certainly given fans plenty of reasons over the last 10 months to head into the season with what feels like the lowest expectations since the Jets returned back in 2011, but to be perfectly honest I don’t think fans should be quite as low on this team as they are. I am definitely not putting a futures bet down this year and still think they will miss making the playoffs given how competitive the Central Division is, but the Jets still do have a very solid top 6 and I think the defense corps on this team is better than they played last year. If Hellebuyck can return somewhere close to his Vezina winning year & the boys in the room can figure out how to settle their differences we could still get an interesting season out of this team.
The two prospects to watch in training camp are Cole Perfetti and Vinne Heinola. Perfetti played just 18 games, recording 7 points, which doesn’t jump off the page at anyone but it does look like he has the potential to be an impact player on this roster. I am expecting Perfetti will make the team this year out of training camp and I am hopeful we will see him get some power play time on the 2nd unit. Heinola is a bit of a different story. He’s had some short stints in the NHL, but other than a couple of moments where he looked good early on a larger sample size has shown he’s a bit of a liability defensively and he isn’t quite dynamic enough offensively to offset this. I get the feeling this is somewhat of a make or break year for him as an NHL player and will be keeping an eye on him to see if another AHL season last year has done him well or if this first round pick was a rare miss by the Jets front office.
The Jets open their pre-season schedule against the Edmonton Oilers on September 25 and their first regular season/home opener on October 14 against the Rangers.