If Fan Support Could Earn You Regular Season Wins, The Winnipeg Jets Would Have a Great 2011/12 Season.
Now that all the Winnipeg Jets’ hype and nostalgia has worn off, and they’ve got the tributes, name and jersey speculation, and that season opener out of the way, I think it’s time someone said what a lot of hockey fans have been afraid to say for fear of lynching via Winnipegers….. The Jets might be really bad this year.
Before I dive in here, let me iterate that I am very happy for the fans of Winnipeg to have their team back, and that their loyalty makes the MTS Centre a phenomenal venue for a team to play out of. After getting throttled 5-1 by the Montreal Canadiens on October 9th (all the Habs had to do was raise the puck to beat Andrej Pavelec 5 times), fans were still standing and cheering in the final minutes, whereas most fans of most teams would have left early to beat the traffic and get home at a reasonable hour. Winnipeg Jets fans are a special breed, and I dig that.
But let’s objectively look at this team and assess their odds: The Thrashers finished 25th out of 30 teams last season. The Jets’ were only a .500 hockey club through 7 pre-season games, where they were middle of the pack in Goals For (18), and near the bottom in Goals Against (19). Their franchise players are probably Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Nik Antropov; who, while all good players, aren’t exactly known to be mentioned in the same discussions as Crosby, Ovechkin, Stamkos, Toews, and the rest of the NHL’s elite. Besides some draft picks, Tanner Glass and Kyle Wellwood would be the team’s only major off-season acquisitions; and neither of them earn more than $800,000, a fair indication of how valuable and talented the Jets feel they are (compared to the majority of NHLers, whose contracts all contain at least 7 digits). Jets’ owner, Mark Chipman, has mentioned that Winnipeg will not be a team that threatens the financial upper boundaries of the NHL’s salary cap, so we shouldn’t expect any major signings either. As I alluded to earlier, between Andej Pavelec and Chris Mason, their goaltending is suspect at best. And to top it all off, they’re being led by AHL absorption/call-up coach, Claude Noel; questionably ready to be coaching at the NHL level. Also, this band of players has a habit of having one or two of them randomly faint during games (Pavelec, Meyer).
The only real “Ace In The Hole” that the Winnipeg Jets have is that fan base. The MTS Centre will be loud and proud every night, no question. But the problem is that they only play half of their games at home. Subtract a few games where Jets fans may drive to (Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and snowbirds vacationing in Phoenix), and that intangible becomes null and void. Combine that with the team’s Southeast Division travel schedule that contains multiple trips to Florida, and 2011-2012 may be one heck of a long season for the Winnipeg Jets and their fans. My Stanley Cup predictions don’t feature Winnipeg in the equation. For their sake, I really hope I’m wrong.