By Adam Vingan
On October 9, the repatriated Winnipeg Jets will officially play a NHL game for the first time since April 28, 1996, when they host the Montreal Canadiens at the league’s new-smallest arena, MTS Centre. Much is still not known about the Jets; their jerseys have yet to be released, but that is not the only question mark. As exciting as the Jets’ return to Winnipeg is, the rabid fans will come to realize that they are indeed watching the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that did not win a playoff game during its decade in the Dirty South.
Perhaps a change of scenery will do the Jets some good, but they are still a member of the Southeast Division for one season (technically, Winnipeg is in southeastern Manitoba, so it checks out) and will log significant travel miles. According to On The Forecheck, the Jets will amass a total of 44.627 miles in 2011-12, the second-highest total in the Eastern Conference (the Florida Panthers will travel 52,751 miles). Maybe the Jets moniker fits in more ways than one?
Save The Date (season matchups): November 23 in Washington; November 17 in Winnipeg; December 15 in Winnipeg; February 9 in Washington; March 16 in Winnipeg; March 23 in Washington.
Stocking Suffers (notable additions): F Eric Fehr (acquired from Washington); F Tanner Glass (free agency via Vancouver); D Randy Jones (free agency via Tampa Bay): D Derek Meech (free agency via Detroit).
Gift Receipts (notable subtractions): F Anthony Stewart (signed with Carolina); F Eric Boulton (signed with New Jersey); F Radek Dvorak (signed with Dallas).
Ghosts Of Christmas Past (last season): 34-36-12 – fourth in Southeast Division – 12th in Eastern Conference.
The Thrashers entered what ultimately became their final season in Atlanta with renewed promise, having picked up several players from the Chicago Blackhawks’ fire sale, including future captain Andrew Ladd and forward-turned-defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. A 20-15-6 record during the 2010 portion of the season had Atlanta in the thick of things; they were only three points behind the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division when 2011 began. Yet, the Thrashers only won 14 of their last 41 games and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season and 10th time in 11 seasons.
Yet, not all was lost. Byfuglien’s first full season as a defenseman saw him earn a career-best 53 points, while his fellow defenseman, Tobias Enstrom also totaled a career-high 51 points as both earned All-Star nominations. Ladd broke out to with a career year of his own (29 goals, 30 assists) and earned the captaincy in the process. Ondrej Pavelec recovered from fainting on opening night against the Caps to finish 21-23-9 with a 2.73 GAA and .914 SV%, all career highs.
Wish List (season outlook): The Jets have plenty of promise, but a hectic travel schedule and lofty expectations from the enthusiastic Winnipeg faithful might lead to their demise. Fehr is the Jet’s most promising acquisition as he was deemed expendable in Washington with the litany of wingers that the Caps possessed. Fehr will have the opportunity to play on the top six and could be a breakout star.
The Jets’ defensive corps, which besides Byfulgien and Enstrom also features Johnny Oduya, Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart, is formidable with its mix of offensive and defensive skill. The forwards (Ladd, Fehr, Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov and Blake Wheeler, specifically) will need to carry the load as the Jets’ bottom six is nowhere near as strong as their top six. This team, albeit in a different uniform, city and country, did prove at one point during the 2010-11 season that it has what it takes to compete. With a fanbase behind them, things could be looking up.