Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Jets ready to drop the puck

Tonight the action starts for real and the NHL's 97th season begins! For the first time in Jets 3.0 history (yes 3.0...I don't agree with the 2.0 terminology) they will travel to Edmonton and take on the Oilers. Due to the lockout, this is only the second meeting between the two clubs, and I can tell you first hand there are thousands of Manitobans now living in Edmonton that couldn't be more excited for tonight. I was at the X game a week or so ago and could not believe the amount of Jets gear and face paint. 

Both teams come into this season on the up swing, but both have some question marks. I would argue the Jets have less holes than the Oilers, while the Oilers probably have a higher ceiling when all the #1 picks are healthy. I haven't sat down yet to do my predictions as far as standings are concerned, but I see both these teams knocking on the door during the last 2 weeks of the season. It's going to be a tough road this year because of the Olympic schedule. Winnipeg of course has moved to the west where they belong. 

The Jets may have one of the best D corps in the entire NHL when healthy. Unfortunately for them, that almost never happened last season. Dustin Byfuglien has come into camp in great shape and seems intent on making the US Olympic team. Zach Bogosian will continue his development into one of the games best all round D men. The X factor is Tobias Enstrom. He is magic on the power play and keeps the Jets out of their zone with accurate tape to tape passes. Mark Stuart is rock solid and the kind of player every team in the NHL wants. Super sub Grant Clitsome was rewarded with his best contract ever but starts the season dinged up. Jets fans on Twitter have worked themselves into a fever pitch about Jacob Trouba. He will start the season on the big team, reportedly playing with Bogosian. 

The Jets first line is rock solid as well. Andrew Ladd was nearly a point a game player last year in a shorted season. He will be hard pressed to do that again, but the Olympic dream is also calling him. Recently signed Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler join Ladd for one of the most effective "3 some" in the league. Evander Kane is the teams best sniper, the problem is the Jets have not found anyone to connect with him long term. Its been a revolving door around him for two seasons. Devon Setoguchi was added and will be the other winger to play with Kane which should help. The question is who plays center? Will it be Olli Jokinen or Mark Scheifele? Maybe it will be Michael Frolik... probably it will be all three. Scheifele is a wild card as well. If he is ready for the NHL, he gives the Jets 2 feared lines. That could be the tipping point for the organization. 

Fan favourite Ondrej Pavelec will probably play 70 games this year. Pavelec needs to be more consistent for the Jets to make the playoffs. When he is hot, few are better. When he isn't...the Jets are in tough. Last year he posted a 2.80 GAA, and in fact his career best is 2.73. His past 2 seasons SV% are .906 and .905. Simply put, that isn't good enough to lead a team to the playoffs. He is the key to the season.
It will be interesting to watch Claude Noel this year. He has much more depth at forward and more options. It appears to me that the Jets personnel are generally more offensive type players and Noel is a Ken Hitchcock disciple. Can they find a happy medium and make it work? If the Jets miss the playoffs again, time may have run out on Noel. Only time will tell and the journey begins tonight on CBC's Hockey Night In Canada for the national audience.



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