On the surface, it looks like another lost season in Winnipeg.
The Jets are floating around .500 at 25-25-4 at this writing, are fifth in the Central Division and twelfth in the Western Conference.
They also rank near the bottom of the league in several key categories including 27th in penalty killing and 26th in goals against.
As you dig deeper into the team, however, the Jets seem to be on the verge of climbing out of the NHL cellar and are potentially poised to stay out of it for quite a while.
While their record may not indicate it, Winnipeg can light the lamp. Since January 1st, Winnipeg has scored 56 goals, better than every other team except the Washington Capitals who have scored an astonishing 65. Their ability to find the back of the net has given them a 3.71 goals per game average in that span. Only the Caps, Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins have been better.
On an even more promising note, there is no reason to think that the scoring can’t continue for this season and beyond because much of it is being done by the Jets young stars.
This includes center Mark Scheifele who leads the team in goals with 25 goals, 28 assists and 53 points. Scheifele is quickly becoming one of the league’s best scorers and will most likely soon be known as one of its bona fide superstars.
Since the start of the 2015-15 season, he ranks 10th with 53 goals and since January 30, 2016, his 87 points are third best in the league. Additionally, on a points per game rate in that span, he’s right up there with the Great Eight, Alex Ovechkin.
There are also encouraging signs on defense, particularly the play of Jacob Trouba. As the ninth pick in the 2012 draft, Trouba had a solid rookie season, tallying 29 points, but his offense regressed in subsequent seasons and he wasn’t establishing himself as a force along the blue line.
All of that has changed this season, with Trouba already equaling his point total from a year ago (in just 38 games) and his defense has improved as well.
While the success of the long-term building blocks isn’t showing up in the overall standings, which should be expected by a team who entered the season with 60-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, the Jets division rivals have seen it. Winnipeg is 13-4-1 against the Central Division this season.
With twenty-eight games left in the season, the Jets still have a shot at the playoffs (trailing eighth place Calgary by one point in the standings) but there are a few things they need to improve if they are going to make a run at the postseason.
A big one is goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck has a GAA of 2.82 and paltry .908 save percentage. He was recently given a six-game rest to see if time away would help him regain the form that made Winnipeg turn the reigns over to him in the first place, but it is clear that if his play doesn’t improve, the Jets may have to move on from this once promising prospect.
In the end, despite another season that could end without a trip to the playoffs, the Jets have a core that can take them far for many years to come. The key now will be head coach Paul Maurice stepping up and proving that he is the right person to lead them through that process.