Jets trying not to repeat Atlanta's mistakes

BY foxsports • September 30, 2011

From the moment the NHL announced its return to Winnipeg, the city's focus turned immediately to the future: What would the team be called? What would the sweaters look like? Who would the first opponent be?

But new general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was just as interested in looking back at what happened before the Atlanta Thrashers migrated north.

''I think you have to look at the past a little bit in the sense that (last year) was a tale of two seasons,'' said Cheveldayoff, who was hired in June to replace Rick Dudley. ''The first half they came out and played exceptionally well, and the second half of the season something went wrong. You look at all the little indicators, you look at some of the things that maybe you can improve upon.''

That was particularly important because the roster remains nearly unchanged. Six defensemen and both goaltenders have returned from the NHL's 29th-ranked team in goals against - not to mention roughly two-thirds of the forwards.

Atlanta found itself in playoff position midway through last season before going 14-21-6 down the stretch and tumbling to 12th in the Eastern Conference.

A number of key players slumped, including big defenseman Dustin Byfuglien who had just 13 of his 53 points in the second half and top goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who had a .893 save percentage in 31 appearances after Dec. 31.

''I think the pace of our game dropped off,'' captain Andrew Ladd said. ''The big thing for us was getting up the ice and putting pressure on other teams and forcing them to make mistakes. Once you have one or two guys not getting there in time, it gives teams an opportunity to get (the puck) out of their own end and get on the attack.

''Obviously, we gave up too many goals,'' he added. ''You can point to a few things, but we had a young team and we can learn from that and not make that mistake twice.''

It will be up to new coach Claude Noel and his staff to make sure it doesn't happen again.

The 55-year-old was given his first full-time NHL head coaching job after Cheveldayoff decided not to retain Ramsay. He was interim coach in Columbus for 24 games following Ken Hitchcock's departure in February 2010 and spent last season in Winnipeg coaching the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

The biggest unknown about the Jets season is what impact, if any, playing in a new city will have on the team's performance. Dating back to the Atlanta Flames move to Calgary in 1980, the last six NHL franchises to relocate averaged an 11-point improvement in their first year in a new setting.

For players who had grown accustomed to the relative anonymity they enjoyed with the Thrashers, there will be an adjustment period now that they're the biggest game in town.

''Definitely it's a big change,'' third-year forward Evander Kane said. ''Coming to a Canadian market and a Canadian city where hockey is No. 1. We've got some passionate fans, and a passionate province, so I think it's a fresh start for everybody.''

Kane is the most intriguing player in the lineup. At just 20 years old, he's expected to improve on a 19-goal season from a year ago and could develop into the team's most dynamic offensive contributor.

The Jets also will lean heavily on the line of Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler and look for some added contributions from returnees Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov.

On the blue-line, Byfuglien is expected to log big minutes again. The 26-year-old also will have to deal with some off-ice issues after being charged with boating while intoxicated over the summer.

Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Mark Stuart, Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey and Randy Jones round out the defense corps, while Chris Mason will back up Pavelec in goal.

One of the biggest challenges for the Jets will be enduring the wait for the regular season opener against Montreal on Oct. 9. It comes more than a week after the team wraps up the preseason.

''It's kind of like everything for us this year,'' Cheveldayoff said. ''There's been a lot of preparation and a lot of time that's gone in, but at the end of the day you just want to get things started.''

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