The axles on the bandwagon are starting to carry a load.

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Opinion

The axles on the bandwagon are starting to carry a load.

A rather remarkable 11 days by the Winnipeg Jets has certainly pleased Jets Nation but elbow room is now shrinking because eyes from elsewhere in the hockey world have suddenly caught on.

Dustin Byfuglien's mixed-position stats complicate things for Norris trophy voters.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Dustin Byfuglien's mixed-position stats complicate things for Norris trophy voters.

The Jets have been in a playoff position in the Western Conference since defeating the Nashville Predators at the MTS Centre on Nov. 4.

Their 23-9-8 record after a 2-5-0 start didn't just happen in the last two weeks.

But since last Tuesday, when Paul Maurice clicked up to the 500-win plateau as an NHL coach, attention has been building.

Then the Jets went through Dallas and Chicago with wins last week, and Dustin Byfuglien was named the league's first star of the week at the end of the team's 5-0-1 unbeaten string and Winnipeg in January -- yes, hard to believe -- is a sexy subject.

The world had for some time been in love with the story of the Calgary Flames's start, but stories on the Jets appeared on ESPN and in one of Canada's "national" newspapers and even on Sportsnet's website. Next thing you know, Don Cherry is fawning all over the Jets on his Coach's Corner segment, and the Hockey Night in Canada crowd, which has always featured numerous unbelievers, suddenly had only rose-coloured lenses for the Jets.

You're already starting to hear about some of the individual performances in Winnipeg that are sparking discussions in the awards picture, so on the occasion of the latest bandwagon load up, we bring you these most likely categories:

 

Michael Hutchinson's save percentage is third-best in the NHL among those considered regulars.

JOHN WOODS / FREE PRESS FILES

Michael Hutchinson's save percentage is third-best in the NHL among those considered regulars.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

Candidate: Dustin Byfuglien

Byfuglien, once a forward turned into a defenceman who was sent back to forward because he was too much of a lightning rod for what was going wrong with the Jets, has undergone a miraculous transformation.

Pressed into the latest position switch, back to the spot he has long said he prefers, defence, Byfuglien has scored 20 points (7-13-20) and is plus-seven in the 21 games he has played on the blue-line since Dec. 5. This includes the nine points he has recorded in the last six games.

He had 11 points in 25 games as a forward this season, complicating comparisons to rivals around the league as far as scoring goes. St. Louis's Kevin Shattenkirk and Calgary's Mark Giordano currently lead the scoring chart among defencemen, with 39 points in 45 games.

Byfuglien's season chart is 31 points in 47 games, which would place him seventh on the list of defencemen.

Byfuglien's mixed-position stats complicate things for Norris Trophy voters, who have shown a penchant in the past to be over-focused on the scoring stats alone.

There is no arguing with Byfuglien's impact, however, and more of that in the 37 regular-season games that remain would make the big man a serious candidate.

Other candidates: Giordano has received immense attention, but is he any different than Byfuglien in that he shouldn't be a serious consideration if his team fails to make the playoffs? Shattenkirk is a blossoming elite player. Some perennial contenders, such as Nashville's Shea Weber, Chicago's Duncan Keith and L.A.'s Drew Doughty are heavy competition. If any of them played in the Eastern Conference, the regular voting bias would already make this race over.

 

Jack Adams Award

Candidate: Paul Maurice

Where Maurice has guided the 2014-15 Jets today would make him a contender for the NHL's coach of the year award. There's a lot of season left and good starts or good halves alone rarely get the job done.

The thing to keep in mind in this discussion is the award is almost always determined by performance against expectations, so it's very difficult for the coaches of elite teams to have a major groundswell of support.

Maurice, who passed win No. 500 last Tuesday and has quickly bumped his total to 503, has given the Jets clarity, and after a stumble out of the gate, the team hasn't lost three in a row since.

Other candidates: At this stage, you'd have to think Peter Laviolette in Nashville is the front-runner, with the Islanders' Jack Capuano and Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper, a runner-up last year along with Detroit's Mike Babcock, garnering much support.

 

Calder Memorial Trophy

Candidate: Michael Hutchinson

In his 20 appearances, Hutchinson has posted numbers that have been major assets to the Jets -- at 13-4-2 record, a 2.00 goals-against average and a save percentage of .932.

Today, his average is third-best in the NHL among those considered regulars, and his save percentage can be anywhere you want between first and eighth depending on how you sort out those who don't play very often. (It's the best among goalies with 20 games or more.)

The contributions are undeniable but given Hutchinson doesn't play every game, some voters just won't go there, which most likely makes him just a candidate, not a contender for the award, at this point.

Other candidates: Nashville's Filip Forsberg, with 15 goals and 39 points so far, and plus-23, is the hands-down favourite to win. He'd have to have a disastrous second half to even fall into a race. Florida's Aaron Ekblad gets some love because he's playing a difficult position, defence, and Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau, for his slickness alone, will get votes. L.A.'s Tanner Pearson was a contender earlier but his significant injury absence, fair or not, will hurt his case.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca