Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Best of the Jets: Gather round, here's our picks, NHL-awards style

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Pardon the interruption, Winnipeg Jets fans. Sorry to tear you away from the angst-filled vigil of the NHL's Eastern Conference scoreboard/standings.

Yes, while this team's game will continue to be under the microscope from now until the regular season closes in less than a month -- and especially following two more road losses and four days between the Calgary defeat and Wednesday's home date with Dallas -- we thought we'd offer up a brief interlude to all the analysis and over-analysis of their current plight.

So gather round the newspaper as we present the framework for some healthy Jets discussion, specifically about the best of their best. Just for kicks and giggles -- and in an attempt to veer away momentarily from dissecting everything from their road woes to their penalty kill -- let's all pretend we are staring at a Jets-only ballot for individual awards.

Here's our take. Feel free to debate among yourselves...


Awarded to: MVP

Last year's Hart winner: Corey Perry, Anaheim

The Jets candidates:

Ondrej Pavelec, G -- Go ahead and ask around the room and Jets players will insist Pavelec has carried them for stretches this season.

Blake Wheeler, RW -- Has emerged as one of the NHL's top power forwards over the last five months. An amazing transformation.

Dustin Byfuglien, D -- OK, we get it... he can still cheat occasionally offensively and it drives everyone nuts. And, yes, his fitness level has to be questioned. But when he's on his game he can be a difference maker.



Awarded to: NHL scoring champ

Last year's Art Ross winner: Daniel Sedin, Vancouver

The Jets candidates:

Blake Wheeler, RW -- Leads the Jets with 17 goals and 39 assists for 56 points. Consider these numbers: went without a goal for the first 18 games this season; since then he is on a point-a-game pace and now has 17 goals and 32 assists in 49 games.

Evander Kane, LW -- Has posted career highs in goals (27) and points (48). Still so much upside.

Dustin Byfuglien, D -- Third on the Jets with 43 points (10G, 33A).


Awarded to: Top rookie

Last year's Calder winner: Jeff Skinner, Carolina

The Jets candidates:

Officially, no one qualifies. The Jets are one of the 10-youngest teams in the NHL, but the only 'rookie' on the roster is Mark Flood and he doesn't qualify under NHL rules because he is 27.



Awarded to: Best defenceman

Last year's Norris winner: Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit

The Jets candidates:

Toby Enstrom -- Playing his best hockey right now. He's small, but offensively gifted and a fantastic skater.

Dustin Byfuglien -- Some facts: During his absence earlier this winter, the team was 7-8-1 and struggled mightily to score goals as they were shut out three times and held to one goal in five other games.

Zach Bogosian -- Recent battles with injuries have taken him out of the lineup, but he is quickly becoming a defensive anchor who could be wearing Jets colours for the next decade.



Awarded to: Top goaltender

Last year's Vezina winner: Tim Thomas, Boston

The Jets candidates:

Ondrej Pavelec -- Career-high 25 wins and while his save percentage (.911) and goals-against average (2.78) are slightly worse than a year ago (.914/2.73), he has found consistency in his game.

Chris Mason -- A 2.26 GAA and .909 save percentage. A calming influence on and off the ice.



Awarded to: Sportsmanship/gentlemanly conduct

Last year's Lady Byng winner: Martin St. Louis, Tampa

The JetSs candidates: No debate here as there is only one...

Kyle Wellwood, RW -- He has taken two minors all season. Get this: he has just 34 penalty minutes in 440 career NHL games.



Awarded to: Top defensive forward

Last year's winner: Ryan Kesler, Vancouver

The Jets candidates:

Jim Slater, C -- Centres the Jets' GST checking line and takes many of the critical faceoffs.

Chris Thorburn, RW -- Chips in with the odd goal and a difficult match-up for the opposition.

Tanner Glass, LW -- Have to have the entire GST line listed here, right? Ninth in the NHL with 215 hits.

Blake Wheeler, RW -- Bonus entry: his skating and hustle has been evident defensively of late.


Awarded to: Goal-scoring champ

Last year's winner: Corey Perry, Anaheim

The Jets candidates:

Evander Kane, LW -- Leads the Jets with 27 goals and with 13 games remaining is almost certain to finish atop the team chart.

Andrew Ladd, LW -- Finished with 29 goals last year, has 21 this season.

Bryan Little, C -- Can be streaky; he has 19 goals this season and a team-high six game-winners.



Awarded FoR: Leadership on and off the ice

Last year's winner: Zdeno Chara, Boston

The Jets candidates:

Andrew Ladd, LW -- It's no coincidence that when the captain spoke out recently, the Jets' collective game soared. Time for another speech, el capitan?

Mark Stuart, D -- Nobody squeezes more out of his ability than this guy. Absolutely intense.

Chris Thorburn, RW -- Popular, character guy who wears an assistant captain's 'A.' Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2012 C3

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