The Winnipeg Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. The Jets have crafted a solid roster that could battle the big boys in the Central Division for the past couple of years. In 2018 they were so close to making the team’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance but were defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Finals. That’s the farthest the team has gone in the playoffs since the original Winnipeg Jets (who are now the Arizona Coyotes) made it to the Conference Finals in 1987.
The Winnipeg front office alongside general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has tried their best to get Winnipeg into being a strong team again. Before this stretch since 2016-17, the Jets in their entire history have not been one of the most successful franchises in the league. Despite this, this is a team with tons of history and the home of some Hall of Fame players like Teemu Selänne, Keith Tkachuk, and Dale Hawerchuk. Now led by guys like Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyler Connor, and Nikolaj Ehlers, the Jets have a competitive group. Yet even with these great players, Winnipeg hasn’t been able to grow into a higher form of success.
The team hasn’t been bad but it soon might be time for a new vision and person in charge. Winnipeg has always been a tough destination to sell to players, so attracting free agents to Manitoba city has been extremely difficult. Free agents draw attention to cities and allow hockey and the team to grow when players show interest in certain areas.
The inaction is definitely frustrating, but when a franchise isn’t in an attractive locale it’s difficult to lure players. Even so, the lack of action in addressing holes in the roster is disappointing. It creates a never-ending cycle of mediocrity. Without that, they rely on drafting and development/trades to push them forward. Winnipeg is in a tough spot unless the team has elite drafting and developing, which just hasn’t been the case over the last little bit. The Jets are now on the wrong side of their previous competitive trajectory and the inaction makes it feel like there truly is no defined path for the future of the team. They’re probably too good to rebuild, but also not bad enough to really contend. A cycle of mediocrity.
Continuing to run back the same core year after year with mediocre results is extremely frustrating. Aside from one season, the Jets have never really been an elite team. But they believed they could be with what they had. The Jets are average and the front office is probably pretty close to that too. The only major addition the Jets got this season was hiring Rick Bowness. Bowness was hired on July 3 to replace Dave Lowry, who took over after Paul Maurice resigned on December 17. Bowness, who began his coaching career as an assistant with the Jets in 1984-85 before coaching them for 28 games in 1988-89, spent the past three seasons with the Dallas Stars before resigning on May 20. With the Stars, he was 89-62-25 in 176 regular season games and 18-16 in 34 playoff games, including leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. He could be the new voice that could propel the team forward, as the Jets have relied on Maurice for a long time for their success. Bowness helped make Dallas a better contender than they truly were and I think he can make some big changes here. But a coach can only do so much for a team
With Paul Stastny likely not returning, the Jets will need someone else to step into a top-six role. They have great guys in that top-six with Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Nikolaj Ehlers. But they need a youngster to step up. Cole Perfetti, the 10th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 18 NHL games last season and 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 17 games with Manitoba of the American Hockey League. Perfetti is a highly touted prospect and even with his small frame brings a lot to the team. Perfetti is an elite passer and has the combination of vision and patience to be one of the best playmakers in the league. The guy is a winner, great with the puck, especially for his size and frame, and can make plays out of thin air. He is still young but he can be the key for the Jets going forward. But they also need to draft well and find gems. But the main focus, for now, is to develop guys like Kristian Reichel, and Ville Heinola. Plus they added to their pipeline with Chaz Lucius, Nikita Chibrikov, and Brad Lambert.
But those guys are more long-term goals for making the roster and improving the team. The Jets for now have to make do with what they’ve given themselves. Maybe during the season they can work something out either within the team or try for a big trade later on. For now, they are what they are. Connor Hellebuyck is one of the best goalies in the league without question and continues to anchor the Jets. Their forward core is solid and they have a well-rebounded defensive corps. The Central is a gauntlet but the Jets have shown themselves in the past that they have what it takes. They just have to work at it and make it work. Who knows, under Bowness, they may be able to go to greater heights they just haven’t seen yet.