Two years ago the Winnipeg Jets were on the rise. In the spring of 2018 they won a big seven-game series against the Nashville Predators, a battle between two of the top teams in hockey. Winnipeg had a rising star at goalie in Connor Hellebuyck. Both the present and the future were looking bright.
It’s August 2020 and Hellebuyck is still one of the league’s top goalies. But Winnipeg has not won a playoff series since that 2018 night in Nashville. The Jets went out in the first round last year. And they were eliminated from the preliminary round last night, losing to the Calgary Flames.
Worse is the way Winnipeg went out. After splitting the first two games in the best-of-five prelims, the Jets were simply overrun in Games 3 & 4. They lost 6-2 and then went out quietly last night, 4-0. They were outplayed up and down the ice and rarely mounted consistent attacks on the net.
In fairness, Winnipeg was not helped when Mark Scheifel, their second-best offensive player, could only play three minutes the entire series due to an Achilles problem. But Scheifel’s absence doesn’t explain the following…
*The failure of Kyle Connor, the Jets’ best offensive threat, to score at all during the four games. Furthermore, Connor only took 14 shots the entire series. If you’re clearly a team’s most potent scoring threat, I think you need a minimum of four shots per game.
I’ve developed that as an arbitrary baseline watching the Washington Capitals in the Alex Ovechkin years—if the best player is getting four shots or more, the results are usually good. Fewer than that, and the defense was in control. In this series, Calgary was in control.
*Winnipeg allowed Calgary an average of over 32 shots per game for the series. Here the baseline number is 30. If you’re letting a team go over that, it better be because you’re comfortable playing an up-and-down style and are getting that many in return.
Neither applies. Winnipeg only ranked 16th on offense prior to the lockdown and that was with Scheifel in the lineup. Without him, the focus should have been on playing a defense-first, ugly type of hockey and letting Hellebuyck carry the team. Winnipeg didn’t do that—or if they tried to, it didn’t work. And they averaged just under 28 shots per game themselves.
An organization can’t overreact to the results from this August tournament, with the long layoff, the hub atmosphere without fans and the general chaos that hockey (along with the rest of society) has been in through 2020. But it is worth noting that Winnipeg was only the 8-seed in this expanded tournament to begin with—it’s not like they were playing great hockey in March.
The Jets have had a generally rough existence since their founding in 2000. That ’18 run to the conference finals is the only time they’ve even been that deep into the playoffs. This group of players and this goalie in particular have a chance to deliver the franchise a breakthrough. But next year needs to be approached with a certain amount of urgency.