Gaining altitude

Jets in the playoff hunt, not the Connor McDavid hunt

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The hockey world was unimpressed at the 10-game mark, giving the Winnipeg Jets a collective shrug of the shoulders early in their 2014-15 season.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/12/2014 (2909 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The hockey world was unimpressed at the 10-game mark, giving the Winnipeg Jets a collective shrug of the shoulders early in their 2014-15 season.

At the 20-game mark, some started to take notice, but just barely.

Now, with the Jets 15-9-6 after 30 games, with points in eight straight contests (5-0-3) — and, more importantly — currently in a playoff position rather than chasing one, this bunch has definitely forced its way into the discussion.

JOHN WOODS / the canadian press Winnipeg Jets Jacob Trouba, Bryan Little and captain Andrew Ladd are helping lead a rejuvenated team on its quest for post-season play.

Sure, there’s a ton of hockey left. But as the squad returned home from its two-game jaunt to Dallas and Denver, here are the latest talking points worth tossing around as they ready for a four-game homestand:

1. Discuss among yourselves: Assuming the Jets blue-line gets healthy again next month with the return of Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Grant Clitsome, Dustin Byfuglien will become A) a defenceman; B) a forward; C) a hybrid, just as head coach Paul Maurice was using him before the rash of injuries.

Byfuglien’s recent run back at defence has been impressive. He’s gobbling up huge minutes, averaging just under 27 in four games, and has been chipping in offensively with two goals and four points over that stretch. That said, there was also a reason the club moved him to forward last season and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

But consider this, for what’s worth: As much as the Jets would miss his physical play up front, how would the club look with Bogosian-Enstrom; Jacob Trouba-Mark Stuart and Byfuglien and Ben Chiarot as its three D pairings? That might be wishful thinking, given the injury history of this crew, but the possibilities — and the depth Clitsome, Paul Postma and Adam Pardy would provide — are intriguing.

 

2. Where does “The Natural” fit? Evander Kane returns from his two-game suspension for today’s game against Anaheim and it will be interesting to see where Maurice slots him in up front. Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler have been reunited and remain an underrated No. 1 unit. Mathieu Perreault has helped Mark Scheifele find his offensive mojo playing the wing with the young centre in the last two games — he had a goal and two helpers in Denver — and Michael Frolik has been outstanding on that trio, on any trio, for that matter, as well.

Kane has just four goals this season, one of them an empty netter, and for a team that has such a tight margin of error in every game, they desperately need his touch around the net to go along with his energy. But does that work in a third-line role?

Ben Chiarot

 

3. Just FYI: the Jets can begin negotiating again with Frolik on a new deal beginning Jan. 1. So much of his game goes unnoticed unless he is highlighted on a shift, but it says here if that spectacular short-handed goal he scored against Dallas the other night had been done while wearing a Maple Leafs or Canadiens jersey, it would soon be featured on one of those TSN 30 for 30 bits.

He’s making $3.3 million this season and he is exactly the kind of humble, selfless player that Jets management adores.

 

4. Another week passes and Michael Hutchinson’s name is still atop the leaderboard for goals-against average and save percentage. Shouldn’t he be mentioned more frequently when the NHL’s top rookies are mentioned, right there alongside Filip Forsberg of Nashville, Johnny Gaudreau of Calgary and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad?

 

5. The Jets still have 63 per cent of their schedule to play and the run for playoff spots through mid-December has been nothing more than a light jog. There will be some hard miles yet to run before the final lap and consider this: Five teams that made the playoffs a year ago — San Jose, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Colorado and Dallas — are all still close in the rear-view mirror. Heading into Friday’s action, sportsclubstats.com had Winnipeg’s playoff chances at 55.8 per cent. 

 

6. As good as Ben Chiarot has been since his call-up and his pairing with Dustin Byfuglien, what do the Jets do if they get healthy again along the blue-line? Chiarot is on a two-way deal that pays him $600,000 this year. He’s a restricted free agent next season and unlikely to clear waivers if the Jets try to send him back to St. John’s. Paul Maurice was bang-on in his assessment of the defenceman: There just aren’t many peaks and valleys to his game, it’s just that consistent. 

 

7. Worth noting: the Jets are one game shy of tying a franchise record for consecutive games with at least one point. Over a stretch of nine games from Dec. 9-28 back in 2005 the Atlanta Thrashers went on a 6-0-3 run. The Jets had a chance to tie that mark earlier this season in Montreal after a 6-0-2 stretch, but were then blanked 3-0 by the Canadiens.

 

8. Finally, it seems even Vegas isn’t sure what to make of the Jets. They were 66-to-1 long shots to win the Stanley Cup in early September, then dropped to 100-to-1 before their first game. Their current odds, for what it’s worth, are back to 66-to-1.

CP Michael Frolik scores a highlight-reel, short-handed goal Tuesday in Dallas.

And those #FailForMcDavid and #DishonourForConnor hashtags seem like an eternity ago, don’t they?

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

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

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