Will move to Winnipeg spark franchise?
The big news of the NHL offseason was the move of the Thrashers franchise north of the border, from Atlanta to Winnipeg, and giving the team a new/old name, the Jets. But the new version of the Jets is more interested in moving north in the standings.
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Despite its relocation, Winnipeg will remain in the Southeast Division, at least for this season. That puts the Jets up against some tough competition with both Washington, the top team in the East in each of the last two regular seasons, and Tampa Bay, which reached the conference final last spring, in the same division. Reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston and perennial powers Pittsburgh and Philadelphia also are in the conference.
2010-11 record: 34-36-12, 80 points (4th Southeast Division; 12th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for the playoffs)
Key additions: F Tanner Glass (free agent); D Randy Jones (free agent); F Kenndal McArdle (trade with Florida); F Eric Fehr (trade with Washington); F Jason Jaffray (free agent); D Derek Meech (free agent); F Jason Gregoire (free agent); F Aaron Gagnon (free agent)
Key losses: F Eric Boulton (signed with New Jersey); F Rick Rypien (deceased); D Freddy Meyer (signed with MoDo, Sweden); F Anthony Stewart (signed with Carolina); F Rob Schremp (signed with MoDo, Sweden); F Radek Dvorak (signed with Dallas); F Angelo Esposito (traded to Florida); D Noah Welch (signed with HV71, Sweden)
Burning question: How will the NHL's second stint in Winnipeg fare?
The NHL has had a mixed record when returning to previously abandoned stops. Ottawa, Colorado and Minnesota have all enjoyed relative success the second time around with the Senators, Avalanche and Wild, respectively, after the original Senators, Rockies and North Stars had moved on. But this franchise failed in Atlanta just as the Flames had decades before. Now it will try to make a second go of it in Winnipeg 15 years after the first Jets flew to Phoenix.
The Canadian dollar is much stronger than it was a decade and a half ago, and a salary cap implemented after a season-long lockout evens the playing field a bit. But Winnipeg still is a tiny market compared to most around the league, and the cap limit, and more important cap floor, has risen dramatically since the cap was introduced, leaving many small-market clubs struggling to keep up once again.
The passion for the game and the ability to fill the building in Winnipeg was never in doubt. The question is whether the economic conditions will make this venture more successful in the long haul.
2011-12 outlook: The franchise never enjoyed much success in Atlanta, but there is some talent on hand. The defense is particularly dangerous, with Dustin Byfuglien leading all NHL blueliners with 20 goals and also adding 33 assists in his first season back on defense after playing mostly forward in Chicago. He is joined on the blue line by Tobias Enstrom (10-41-51), hard-nosed Mark Stuart and Zach Bogosian, the third overall pick in 2008 who has yet to live up to his potential and currently remains unsigned as a restricted free agent.
Up front, Andrew Ladd (29-30-59) did get signed to a new five-year, $22 million deal. Bryan Little (18-30-48), Evander Kane (19-24-43), Nik Antropov (16-25-41) and Wheeler (18-26-44) round out the attack. Ondrej Pavelec (21-23-9, 2.73 GAA, .914 save percentage) overcame a scary incident at the start of the year when he collapsed in the crease in the season opener to post a solid season in net.
Did you know? The new Winnipeg Jets will try to do something the franchise never accomplished in 11 seasons in Atlanta: Win a playoff game. The Thrashers qualified for the postseason just once, and were promptly swept in four games by the Rangers in 2007. The original Jets didn't fare much better, winning just two of 13 playoff series in the NHL's first stint in Winnipeg. And those Jets never got past the second round. The move of that franchise to Phoenix hasn't helped much either, with the transplanted Coyotes carrying on the tradition of postseason frustrations by losing all seven of its playoff series to date.