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Roaring rink might attract free agents

Players from around NHL impressed with intensity

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Missing the Stanley Cup playoffs has been a disappointment to the Winnipeg Jets and their fans.

An intangible foundation may have been laid, however, by the NHL's decision to return to Winnipeg and how that story played out.

"None of us knew what to expect," said centre Bryan Little on the franchise's relocation from Atlanta to Winnipeg. "Most of the people here were relatively new to the NHL. They worked in the AHL before, but we really didn't know what to expect.

"Coming here, we saw how professional everything was. It was quite a few steps ahead of the way it was in Atlanta. It far exceeded my expectations."

That included the team's new 15,004-seat home, the MTS Centre, which was sold out for every exhibition and regular-season game.

The arena quickly earned the reputation around the NHL as one of the loudest, if not the loudest venues, and a difficult one for opponents.

"The whole year's been exceptional," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "Right from the get-go, everyone's made things really easy on us. It's an exciting place to play. As a player, we couldn't ask for more."

Does that news travel among players, Ladd was asked, and would it ever be a factor in potential decisions about signing?

"I think so for sure," Ladd said. "Guys talk all the time. You've got friends all over the league. I think just talking to guys who have been in the building and played games here, they're impressed with the excitement and electricity in the building.

"It's fun to be a part of on a consistent basis and know that when you're playing home games, every time you step out on the ice, that's going to be the reaction you'll get."

At the MTS Centre this season, the Jets enjoyed a frequent home-ice advantage.

Their final home-ice record was 23-13-5, good for 51 points.

That put Winnipeg barely in the NHL's top half of home records, but had the Jets been a little truer to form once their realistic playoff chances had faded in the final two weeks of the season, and had they not been 0-3-1 in the last four home games, an elite ranking wasn't far off.

Winnipeg was also plus-19 on the goals front at home, putting it among a group of pretty good teams, many of whom are in the playoffs.

Jets could get lucky

THE first pick of the NHL's June draft isn't available to the Winnipeg Jets tonight but the Jets can still win the lottery.

All non-playoff teams have a stake in tonight's weighted lottery but only the bottom five clubs in the standings have a shot at getting the first overall pick by winning the lottery.

Columbus, which finished last overall, has the best chance of winning the lottery and getting the first pick.

The Jets have a 2.7 per cent chance of winning the lottery but the maximum move-up is four spots. If the Jets beat the odds and win tonight's lottery, they'd move from ninth to fifth spot in the draft.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 D3

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