In a normal season we thankfully only see the Winnipeg Jets twice. In this weird, mixed-up 2021 NHL season, we will be seeing a lot more of the black fly capital of the world as the Leafs play them 10 times over five months. We’ve never had to bother with them much before, and it’s very easy to forget they exist, so this will be a learning experience for both of us.
The Jets made the playoffs by coming fourth in the Central Division with 80 points. That sounds okay, right? Fourth. But the thing you need to remember is the Pacific was so spectacularly bad, that when the NHL expanded the cut-off for teams to make the playoffs, every team in the Central made the cut.
The Jets flamed out (no, I’m not sorry) in the Qualifying Round to Calgary by giving up 16 goals in four games. They managed to win one game and scored a total of six goals. Connor Hellebuyck, who went on to win the Vezina, had a save percentage of .904. Now I know what you’re thinking. What the hell is she doing using save percentage!!
.904 on four goals against per game. That’s what. Hellebuyck faced 40.5 unblocked shots per game on average in that Qualifying Round. He has an almost okay save percentage because he was shelled. Constantly.
The Jets were a terrible team. I got into a “yes they are” - “no they aren’t” with someone on that opinion recently, and I will be slightly more reasonable about it now. The goalie is part of the team, and so when you look at the Jets, you have to look at all the Jets. When they are weighed, measured and found wanting almost everything but a starter, they are better than they seem because of Hellebuyck.
They were still really bad, though.
Last year in the regular season they were:
- 31st in 5on5 Expected Goals %
- 29th in Expected Goals for per 60
- 29th in Expected Goals against per 60
- 14th in Expected Goals for per 60 on the power play
- 27th in Expected Goals against per 60 on the penalty kill
Until you goose their win percentage up with a Vezina goalie, they were the second worst team in the NHL.
Very similarly to the Vancouver Canucks, they had five decent players for points: Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. And then it all goes downhill.
Worse than that, they have a dreadful defence corps responsible for defending that terrible in a division and conference where they saw some of the worst teams in the NHL a lot. Not as much as Vancouver did, but close. Considering the difference in conference strength, they were, arguably, worse than Detroit.
Their season was a massive failure.
CapFriendly has this cool feature where you can look up GMs and their records. Go there and look at Kevin Cheveldayoff. He is notorious for never making trades and for doing nothing in free agency. He’s been the GM for over nine years, and he’s made 39 trades. Kyle Dubas has more than that as GM of the Leafs.
His big deal of this offseason was to get Paul Stastny from Vegas for someone I’ve never heard of and a conditional fourth-rounder. That was it. His last trade before that was to get Cody Eakin from Vegas for a ... conditional fourth-round pick. Huh. That was in February. He also got Dylan DeMelo from the Senators in February, and that is all he did.
Now, Stastny is good, and a solid centre, but he’s also expensive at $6.5 million and 35. DeMelo is fine. Those deals are good, they help the team, but the glaring weakness on defence is still there. So did they fix what ailed them?
No. Also, hell no.
The Jets can’t quite run a 23-man roster and fit under the cap, and they also need to either trade or sign Jack Roslovic, but they aren’t cap-crunched like most teams.
This is the roster from training camp:
#NHLJets lines from Day 2 of training camp:— Murat Ates (@WPGMurat) January 5, 2021
That’s a pretty spiffy top six, and then.... What? And then you look at the defence and Sami Niku is the 1RD? And Derek Forbort, who played in LA but you’ve never heard of him, is their second pairing guy to drag down Neal Pionk? Okay wait. Forbort played in LA, Calgary and the AHL last season for 25 games and had two points!! Seriously: Two Points.
I somewhat jokingly said a month or two ago that the Leafs have six defenders they will cut from the team better than the Jets rostered players, and it’s not far off. They signed Luca Sbisa on purpose. No one made them.
Even allowing for how hard it is to get free agents to go to Winnipeg (pro tip: no one cares about the weather if you don’t suck) this is a bad team. This is a team that has training camp controversy over Roslovic wanting a trade and Patrik “I’m here, aren’t I?” Laine as the centrepiece of their offence. If they want a home for Nic Ehlers, though... I’m sure we can put him up. Somehow.
Winnipeg is the team most likely to finish worse than Ottawa, the team more likely to finish almost as bad as Ottawa, and the second least likely team to make the playoffs out of the TRUE NORTH division.
Unless Hellebuyck picks them up and carries them like he didn’t do in the playoffs. This is all the Jets have, but it sure is shiny: