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Will the Jets be ready?

In a short season, they'll need a fast takeoff

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What works for a sprinter does not always apply for a marathon runner, and if there's an NHL season, it will require a different approach than is usually needed to succeed in the world's best hockey league.

There will be no opportunity for a warm-up. Teams will need to hit the ground running and never break stride. Maybe clubs will be able to afford a slight stall, but a prolonged slump in a 48-game season will result in almost certain playoff death.

The Winnipeg Jets, as they are currently constituted, may or may not be a playoff team in a full 82-game season. But some of their deficiencies could be glossed over in a shortened season and maybe they could squeeze into the tournament.

Lots will have to go their way, but if the Jets can stay healthy, get off to a good start and find a way to win some games on the road, maybe there's a chance for some playoff fun around these parts.

The NHL and NHLPA have not agreed to a new CBA and there is still no way to determine whether there will be a season. What we do know is the league has cancelled games up to and including Dec. 30. The league has also stated it is unlikely to play a season that is less than 48 games long. The date most observers agree a 48-game season would have to begin on or around in order to conclude the Stanley Cup by the end of June is Jan. 20.

So on the chance the two sides can get something done in the next month and open seven- to 10-day training camps prior to a season, we've compiled some key storylines for the Winnipeg Jets.

 

No red lights:

Goaltending will be key in a 48-game schedule. Teams that get strong netminding from the beginning, allowing them to stockpile wins, will have a major edge.

The Jets will have to get over their issues with slated No. 1 Ondrej Pavelec in a hurry. Pavelec was charged and convicted of drunk driving in his native Czech Republic this off-season and has been only so-so in a pair of stints with teams in Europe during the lockout.

Pavelec is facing a sit-down with Jets owner Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff for hiding his arrest during contract negotiations this past summer. The Jets made a major commitment to Pavelec and only found out afterwards that he had been negotiating in bad faith. This must be cleared up. After that, it will be up to goaltending coach Wade Flaherty to get Pavelec right on the ice. Conditioning has always been a factor for Pavelec, and with a compressed schedule, it will be interesting to see how he holds up.

In the shadows will be backup Al Montoya. Signed as a free agent this summer, Montoya began to live up to some of his promise last season playing in 31 games for the New York Islanders and carrying a .891 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average. The book on Montoya is he still has some untapped potential.

The expectation will be for Pavelec to be the horse, but in a compressed schedule, there is no time to wait around hoping a player can find his game. The best will play, regardless of contract situations. This is a pot worth watching to see if it might boil over.

 

Bogo's bumps:

Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian progressed last season to the point where he may soon be this team's leader on the blue-line and have a major say in the dressing room. Bogosian had surgery on his wrist this summer and his status to start the season will have a major impact on the Jets' fortunes.

The recovery period from Bogosian's surgery is four to six months, and if the season were to begin in mid-January, it would be just over the four-month period. Bogosian had a screw removed from his wrist last week and his recovery is said to be on schedule. The fourth-year defender is in full rehab mode at this juncture and how his wrist responds is being closely monitored.

The Jets have so-so depth on the blue-line, but no player in their system is similar to Bogosian, with his mix of physicality, speed and skill.

 

Dustin's diet:

Dustin Byfuglien is perhaps the most talented of the Jets. Big, powerful and fast, with a hard shot to complement offensive flair, Byfuglien has been an all-star two years running. The Jets believe he could challenge for a Norris Trophy if he could work his fitness to an elite level. Byfuglien's weight has fluctuated throughout his career and has become a constant concern for fans and in the media. The lockout has prevented the Jets from monitoring his fitness, so Byfuglien's arrival for a shortened training camp will draw attention. If he's fit and ready to go, he could be a force from Day 1. If he's out of shape and with no time to catch up, the results could be disastrous for the Jets.

 

Chemistry set:

The Jets signed a pair of higher-profile free agents this summer -- centre Olli Jokinen and winger Alexei Ponikarovsky -- and coach Claude Noel will need to figure how they fit in with this group in a hurry.

Getting these two up and running and matched with the right linemates will have to happen fast to have the impact the club was hoping for when they put out big money. Veteran players with lots of offensive talent, Noel will want to maximize their impact. Look for Jokinen to centre the team's top line and for Ponikarovsky to find a perch on the left side of the second or third group, with the potential to grab lots of power-play time.

 

A slot for Scheifele:

NHL clubs needed to make a declaration to the league prior to the beginning of the lockout on junior players they might access should a season begin.

Barrie Colts centre and 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele is the only player the Jets placed on their potential recall list. Scheifele's availability could be affected until after the world junior tournament. But all things being equal, if he's available when and if an NHL camp begins, there's a chance he could have an impact in the early going of a shortened season. With 21 goals and 27 assists in 29 games in the OHL, Scheifele has begun to dominate at the junior level. How that translates to the NHL is still an unknown and the Jets won't try to force his development. If he's ready, he'll stay. If he not, he'll go back. Black and white.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2012 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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