Backed into a corner and forced to give an answer, I would say the Winnipeg Jets won't make the playoffs this season.
But it would be a guess and nothing more.
The reality is there are too many unknowns where the Jets are concerned to put together and support a thesis that definitively answers one way or another what fate awaits this team.
Are the Jets a better team than they were last season? Have they improved to the point where they will qualify for the playoffs?
The answer lies out there, somewhere deep in the regular season and not likely to be revealed until around Game 80.
Any answer offered today is simply a prediction based on trends and hunches.
Lots of the experts have guessed on this subject and for the most part they say the Jets won't get in.
Before we get all sweaty about these opinions, keep in mind the basis upon which they are reached. No. 1 on the criteria list is history, and the Jets haven't played in the post-season since 2007, when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers. This version of the Jets, including their time in Atlanta, have never won a playoff game.
The core of this team, which has missed the playoffs the past two seasons since we started calling them our own here in Winnipeg, remains mostly unchanged but for the additions of a pair of rookies and two wingers deemed expendable by their previous teams.
Predicting what kind of an impact first-year players Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, as well as veterans Michael Frolik, Devin Setoguchi and Matt Halischuk, can have on this team is difficult.
Do these newcomers represent an upgrade over the departed Alexander Burmistrov, Ron Hainsey, Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov and Anti Miettinen? That remains to be seen.
The bet GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is making is on his own players improving as individuals, hopefully translating into growth as a team and resulting in a playoff spot.
Can Ondrej Pavelec be better? Where will Evander Kane's game take the Jets this year? Will Dustin Byfuglien's renewed commitment to fitness pay measurable dividends? Can Scheifele and Trouba be difference makers? Can Andrew Ladd sustain his status as a 30-goal man? Can head coach Claude Noel push the buttons to get this team to play a winning formula on a consistent basis?
It goes on and on but the overriding consideration with the Jets is they have more questions than answers at this point, which makes them a dangerous prediction.
Certainly, the answers to all these questions could come down in a positive manner and make the Jets a playoff team. They could also turn in negative results, leaving the city of Winnipeg an outsider once more when the post-season begins.
Most likely, however, it's a mixed bag and the Jets will be fighting to hang around the line all season. Maybe they'll get good luck in the health department and it will propel them over the top. Or maybe they'll lose a couple of their indispensables and it will prove too much adversity to overcome.
Cheveldayoff's blueprint for the Jets doesn't call for the acquisition of outsiders to change the complexion of the team. So the growth spurt required has to come within and it's difficult to predict when those advancements will arrive and collectively conspire to turn the Jets from a pushover to a contender.
Another season on the outside won't break the franchise but it might break the hearts of some of its fans.
If they miss the playoffs it doesn't represent a failure in the outline and execution of Cheveldayoff's plan but it will turn up the heat on the organization. It might also prove a testy set of circumstances for Noel and his future.
The last two seasons the team has held a playoff position deep into the winter only to fade when the snow begins to melt. The hockey gets edgier and stiffer late in the season and the Jets haven't proven capable of handling that change. So far.
Is this the year? Great question. It's why they play the games and why we watch them.
See you at the rink.
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