Is a playoff berth realistic or do the Jets have too many unsolved questions?

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There is a new coach -- relatively new, at least -- and he'll be continuing to push his relatively new message.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/09/2014 (3003 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is a new coach — relatively new, at least — and he’ll be continuing to push his relatively new message.

There is a new No. 2 netminder. The third-line centre is new. And there are a handful of fresh, new faces seemingly ready to push the incumbents for work.

But as the Winnipeg Jets ready to open their 2014 training camp with the first on-ice session Friday, there is still a definite same-old, same-old look to a roster that led the team to the exact same record — 37-35-10 — as Year 1 of the franchise’s rebirth in Manitoba.

NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31) makes in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in April.

And so while they religiously follow their draft-and-develop blueprint, it’s clear Jets management opens the fourth campaign in Winnipeg with a hope and an expectation their core talent can morph into a squad that not only trades punches with the heavyweights in the NHL’s Central Division, but can still be standing when the playoffs begin next April.

The key question now is how do Paul Maurice, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien & Co. find another 10 points or so in the regular season — at the very least — to achieve that?

Part 2 of our Jets Training Camp Preview Guide examines some of the juicy questions that need to be answered, along with some pertinent numbers and other bits and pieces that may prove to be relevant before the real games begin Oct. 9:

THE BASICS

LAST YEAR: The Jets finished last in the Central Division with a 37-35-10 record, good for 11th in the Western Conference, 22nd overall and seven points out of a playoff spot.

NOTABLE: The club fired Claude Noel on Jan. 12 with the Jets at 19-23-5. He was replaced by Paul Maurice, who led the team to a 18-12-5 record, including a 9-2 run right after the change.

NOTABLE II: Maurice, 47, needs 22 wins to become the youngest coach in league history to reach 500 career victories behind the bench. His career record is 478-469-172 in 1,119 games with Hartford, Carolina, Toronto and the Jets.

CRITICAL NUMBERS

9-15-5: The Jets’ record against their own division last year

23: Winnipeg’s home record of 18-17-6 was just the 23rd-best in the NHL. By comparison, Boston — with the NHL’s best home record at 31-7-3 — racked up 23 more points in their barn than the Jets

.457: Winnipeg’s winning percentage in one-goal games (Colorado was first overall at .700)

15.4: The Jets’ power-play percentage, ranking 25th overall

83.2: The Jets’ penalty-kill percentage, ranking 10th overall

MINUS 10: The Jets’ goal differential in 2013-14. That number has shrunk from -21 in 2011-12 to -16 and -10 last year. Only one other team in the Central was a minus last season (Nashville: -26).

2.82: Winnipeg’s goals-against per game, 22nd overall

SIX QUESTIONS / ISSUES SCREAMING FOR ANSWERS

1. Is Ondrej Pavelec a No. 1 puckstopper?

Many have already come to a conclusion on this, citing his .901 save percentage and a GAA of 3.01 from last season. But management, clearly, still thinks there’s something salvageable here and, with his commitment to a better fitness level, sees the player who was this team’s MVP in Year 1, not the player with the bloated numbers. It’s up to Pavelec, now entering his sixth season as an NHL regular, to answer this question once and for all in the weeks/months ahead.

But this also needs to be said: in the last two years the Jets were 17-10-3 with either Al Montoya or Michael Hutchinson tending goal; 43-46-10 when it was Pavelec.

CP Evander Kane

2. Can Evander Kane get back to 30 goals?

Forget all the sideshow stuff, as much as that might be tiring. If the Jets are to become a playoff team they need ‘The Natural’ to stay healthy and be a consistent difference-maker. In his three years in Winnipeg, he has 12 game-winning goals; tied for the club lead with Andrew Ladd.

3. An upgraded bottom six?

The true contenders in this league get big-time minutes and big-time production from their third and fourth lines. The Jets will see some change here — newcomer Mathieu Perreault is pencilled in as the third-line centre — but just how much? Do the prospects — Nik Ehlers, Adam Lowry, Nic Petan, Scott Kosmachuk — show enough in camp to stick?

Consider this chart, courtesy the Elias Sports Bureau, of players in the Jets/Thrashers organization who have played games as teenagers:

Years Days Player Debut
18 87 Zach Bogosian 10/10/2008
18 352 Alex Burmistrov 10/08/2010
18 62 Evander Kane 10/3/2009
18 172 Ilya Kovalchuk 10/4/2001
19 327 Bryan Little 10/5/2007
18 208 Mark Scheifele 10/9/2011
19 16 Patrik Stefan 10/2/1999
19 217 Jacob Trouba 10/1/2013

4. Will Zach Bogosian steer clear of the DL?

The Jets have made a long-term commitment to the D-man — he’s heading into the second of a seven-year deal worth $36 million — but he’s been on the disabled list for 59 games over the last three seasons. If he’s healthy and he takes that next step everyone has been waiting for, the Jets have an anchor for their top two pairings.

5. Dustin Byfuglien: a lean, mean scoring machine?

The Jets seem fascinated with this Byfuglien as a forward/power-play defenceman hybrid and here’s why: After his move up front, the big man went from a minus-16 to minus-4 and scored 10 goals while adding 12 assists in 32 games. His 56 points was a career high; his 20 goals tied a career best.

6. Scheifele and Trouba: more improvement or a sophomore jinx?

Both players were the silver linings in a lost 2013-14 season. Scheifele had just one goal and four assists in his first 24 games but before he hurt his knee in March had already developed into the team’s clear-cut No. 2 centre with 12 goals and 29 points in a 39-game stretch. The Jets were just 7-9-3 to end the season after Scheifele was injured.

Trouba, meanwhile, led all NHL rookie defencemen in ice time (22:26 per game) and became the first Jets rookie blue-liner to reach double figures in goals with 10 in 65 games.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Thursday, September 18, 2014 8:49 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds table

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