Optimistic Noel, Jets head to Western Conference
Jets coach Claude Noel speaks in simple, straight-forward terms a lot of the time. He is one of these what-you-see-is-what-you-get leaders.
So, it should come as no surprise to see his illustration for Winnipeg this season, especially when his Jets just missed the playoffs last season.
''I clearly see that we have to make the playoffs,'' he said in June. ''But it's not easy to make the playoffs.''
Last season, the Jets finished ninth in the East, four points behind the No. 8 New York Islanders. Winnipeg captured hearts in Canada and was in contention into the final week of the season. In the end, the Jets seemed to have everything, in fact, except a berth.
So, like some other teams in Canada - Calgary and Edmonton last year - the Jets will try, try again to find that elusive spot this season. It won't be easy, as Noel points out. The Jets are now in the Western Conference, as part of NHL realignment, and are in a division with Stanley Cup-champion Chicago, Minnesota and St. Louis.
Winnipeg opens vs. Edmonton on Oct. 1.
Here are five things to keep an eye on with the Jets this season:
INDEFENSIBLE: Winnipeg was 24th in penalty killing (79.7 percent) and tied for 24th in goals-against average (2.94). The Jets did not add any defensemen or goaltenders in the offseason, so they will have to improve on the fly - collectively. They did suffer a departure, though, in Ron Hainsey, a veteran defenseman who signed a one-year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. Hainsey averaged 22:51 of ice time in 47 games last year.
SECONDARY SCORING: Winnipeg finished the lockout-shortened season with 126 goals, tied for 12th in the NHL. A total of 54 were scored by the trio of left wings Evander Kane and Andrew Kane, and right wing Blake Wheeler. After that? Big drop-off. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was fourth on the team with eight goals. In an attempt to address the issue, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff traded for right wings Devin Setoguchi (Minnesota) and Michael Frolik (Chicago). Setoguchi had 13 goals last season, while Frolik has scored 20 goals twice in his career.
MAPPED OUT: Cheveldayoff and Noel signed extensions in the offseason, and are cognizant of both the short- and long-term future of this developing franchise. ''Over the past couple of years, I've learned that we've probably underestimated his abilities,'' Jets co-owner Mark Chipman said his general manager. ''I cannot tell you how much confidence I have in Kevin. He's fit in seamlessly with our entire organization. I feel like we've been working together for far more than the last couple of years.''
NO REST IN THE WEST: The Jets spent the last two seasons in the now-defunct Southeast Division after the organization relocated from Atlanta in 2011. Now, they are in the Central Division and the travel won't be as bad as it was. Keep in mind, this group used to have to travel to Florida and North Carolina for division games. No more. ''It will be a fun time for us,'' Noel said. ''A big challenge.''
COMPANY OF KIDS: Winnipeg has stockpiled an impressive array of prospects including center Mark Scheifele and defensemen Jacob Trouba and Joshua Morrissey. They are building a foundation under Cheveldayoff and Noel and seem intent on sticking to the plan, regardless of the appeal of dealing youth for proven scorers at deadline time.