One of the most popular questions about the Winnipeg Jets has been: "Are they any better for 2013-14?"
The definitive answer comes at the end of the season -- still more than five months away -- but enough of a sample size is starting to reveal some of the evidence.
There are basically four changes to the roster. Devin Setoguchi, Michael Frolik and rookies Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba have taken the places of Alex Burmistrov, Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov and Ron Hainsey.
And, of course, all that money or new contracts -- in several cases both -- to at least nine returning free agents.
Now 14 games into their season, the 5-7-2 Jets have run into several elements of frustration as they get settled in their new Western Conference home in the Central Division.
Consistency has been mystifying and several games have slipped from their grasp.
To start answering the question of "better," we've pulled 10 categories and laid down the hard numbers against the first 14 games of the 2013 lockout season:
THIS SEASON: 5-7-2, 12 points
LAST SEASON: 5-8-1, 11 points
Is one point better than last season making anyone feel better? No. The mark includes a 1-1-1 tally against Eastern Conference opponents. There were no out-of-conference games last season, when Winnipeg did pull up its socks to finish 24-21-3. Somewhat troubling today is that the team has just three regulation/overtime wins; that's in the NHL's low-rent district.
THIS SEASON: Tied for 12th in the 14-team Western Conference; sixth in the seven-team Central.
LAST SEASON: 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference; tied for fourth in the five-team Southeast Division.
In both cases, it's a lot of looking up.
3. The Line
THIS SEASON: Four points away from the final playoff spot.
LAST SEASON: Five points away from the final playoff spot.
When you are not one of the few elite teams in the NHL, the line is always a part of your day. Now, as then, the Jets have ground to make up and the season is barely four weeks old, not a great position considering some history showing teams out of the playoffs in the first month or two don't have great odds of moving in.
THIS SEASON: 34-40 for vs. against. A deficit of six.
LAST SEASON: 35-46 for vs. against. A deficit of 11.
It can't be denied there is some small progress here but still, a minus number is a near death sentence when it comes to determining playoff or non-playoff teams. And it's a valid argument that the only real difference so far, with goals scored about the same, is that this season is just missing the two defensive debacles for losses at Florida and Tampa Bay early last season. Winnipeg surrendered 14 goals in those two.
5. Power play
THIS SEASON: 11.1 per cent; 26th
LAST SEASON: 17.9 per cent, 14th
Last season, the Jets' power play started OK, but sank dramatically to last overall. This season it started just fine but swooned badly -- zip for eight games -- before finally breaking a drought on Tuesday night. There is real concern about this liability.
6. Penalty killing
THIS SEASON: 83.0 per cent, 10th
LAST SEASON: 65.9 per cent, 30th
After a nightmare start last season, the Jets finally caught on to their new system and finished strongly in this department (the awful start held them to a final ranking of 24th). It has been something of an asset so far in 2013-14, especially in light of a troubling sub-statistic, that the team has seen an increase of short-handed time of nearly 45 per cent this season over last. Winnipeg was short the fewest minutes of any NHL team last season (4:34 per game). Right now, in the straight 14-game comparison, that time has gone from 4:42 to 6:48 per game, now the second-highest in the league. It's called playing with fire.
7. Drop the puck
THIS SEASON: 51.6 per cent on faceoffs
LAST SEASON: 44.1 per cent
The Jets sagged to a final tally of 48.9 per cent last season, and 22nd overall. This season so far, the team is second-worst in the NHL and more troubling, has been getting killed in this department on many nights. Last season's won-lost tally on a game basis was 9-5 through 14 games. This season it's 3-11 and the decline is one of the new realities of the Western Conference.
8. Shoot it
THIS SEASON: 445 shots, 205 misses.
LAST SEASON: 389 shots, 208 misses.
There is more shooting in Jets' games, on the 14-game comparison. While shots are up, so are shots against. Both this season and last, the averages almost match, that shots for and against are nearly equal. At least one annoying trend seems to be going the right way, that the percentage of missed shots is lower. All of this fairly flies in the face of the early theory that the west is tighter. Mitigating factors are the three non-conference games and that the team is at least doing a slightly better job of putting pucks on net no matter how little room or how tough the sledding.
THIS SEASON: 225 shots blocked by opponents, 16.1 per game.
LAST SEASON: 193 shots blocked by opponents, 13.8 per game.
Yes, more shooting will mean more blocking but here's another stern reality of the west. The Jets have experienced an early increase of 17 per cent here.
THIS SEASON: Top six goal scorers have 7-6-5-3-2-2.
LAST SEASON: Top six goal scorers have 7-4-4-3-2-2.
Winnipeg appears slightly more top-heavy this season but has made do with fewer goals from defencemen, just three so far. Last season at this time, defencemen accounted for nine goals and Dustin Byfuglien was among the top six. However you slice it here, the Jets still aren't getting much production from their third and fourth lines. Period.