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Maurice's influence, Frolik's future top Jets' questions

by Patrick Williams / Winnipeg Jets

Even a busy offseason would have left the Winnipeg Jets in a difficult position to push their way into Central Division contention.

The Jets finished in last place in the Central Division in 2013-14 with a 37-35-10 record, but general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff elected to keep his roster mostly intact, with third-line center Mathieu Perreault as his only significant addition. If the Jets are to push aside some of their Central Division competition and reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007, they will need to answer these five questions:

1. Can coach Paul Maurice impose his values on the Jets? -- Former coach Claude Noel failed to change the losing ways which accompanied the Jets from their former home in Atlanta, and it cost him his job.

Maurice established some early success with the Jets in winning nine of his first 11 games, but Winnipeg's losing ways resumed late in the season. Maurice brings with him the credibility of more than 1,100 games as an NHL coach, and he has a mandate to change the Jets' ways on and off the ice.

The coach sent his team into the summer with a warning that it should expect a very grueling training camp as he attempts to improve its conditioning and fitness. The Jets had six regulation or overtime/shootout losses when leading after two periods.

Maurice must also improve Winnipeg's power play, which ranked No. 25 last season and No. 30 in 2012-13.

2. What will happen with versatile forward Michael Frolik? -- The one-year deal signed by the popular Frolik this summer leaves open the possibility he could depart next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

The Jets and Frolik are allowed to resume contract negotiations in January. If the Jets remain in contention but negotiation talks are not showing significant progress, Cheveldayoff could be left with a very difficult choice at the NHL Trade Deadline -- retain Frolik for a much-awaited playoff push but risk losing him for nothing next summer or move Frolik in a trade while the Jets are still in contention.

3. Can the Jets avoid letdown games? -- Last season the Jets managed to defeat the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks (twice) on the road. However, they managed to negate the effects of those big wins by losing several road games against non-playoff teams. In an 18-day span in December, the Jets lost road games against the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, all of whom missed the playoffs. The Jets must show a better ability to bear down and defeat teams below them in the NHL standings.

4. Can the Jets improve against the Central Division? -- A 9-15-5 record against their division brethren thwarted any chance that the Jets had to mount a playoff challenge. Their divisional play and their play at home (18-17-6) must improve.

Four of Winnipeg's first seven home games are against Central Division competition. An early failure to win divisional games at MTS Centre could doom the Jets.

5. Can Ondrej Pavelec break his way out of the bottom echelon of NHL goaltenders? -- This one is simple. If Pavelec fails to establish himself in his sixth full NHL season, the Jets missing the playoffs this season might be the least of Cheveldayoff's headaches.

There is little evidence to suggest that anything other than a phenomenal performance from backup Michael Hutchinson would threaten Pavelec's starting job. Another sub-par season from Pavelec would only intensify the critics calling for the Jets to ship out their starting goaltender.

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Author: Patrick Williams | Correspondent

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