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5 Questions: Winnipeg Jets

Special teams, goaltending among chief concerns

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Winnipeg Jets:

 
Who will stop the puck?


Instability in goal was an issue last season, when the Jets had a .909 save percentage that was tied for 23rd in the NHL. They are opting for a different look this season. Connor Hellebuyck, 23, is set to start the season as the No. 1 goalie, and Ondrej Pavelec, last season's starter, was sent to the American Hockey League on Oct. 10, pending him clearing waivers. Hellebuyck made his NHL debut last season, going 13-11-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 26 games when Pavelec was out because of a knee injury. He won his first four starts but was 2-4-0 in his last seven and was pulled in two of his final three. Hutchinson, 26, likely will resume his role as the backup. He has been streaky in that role the past two seasons and last season he had two wins in 15 games between Nov. 22 and March 13. If either of them struggles, they'll have the option to give Pavelec another shot. After he set personal NHL bests in 2014-15 with a 2.28 GAA, .920 save percentage and five shutouts, he had a 2.78 GAA, .904 save percentage and one shutout last season. He also has a salary-cap charge of $3.9 million, according to General Fanager.

Video: WPG@CGY: Pavelec flashes glove to stone Bennett

 

Can special teams transform from liability to asset?

The Jets struggled on the power play and killing penalties. Their 30th-ranked power play (14.8 percent) produced an NHL-low 38 goals. The penalty kill ranked 25th (78.4 percent) and gave up 61 power-play goals; only the Arizona Coyotes (69) allowed more. Changes will be made, including the expected addition of rookie Patrik Laine to the left side of the power play. Better goaltending and the continuation of penalty-killing improvement in last season's final quarter (83.9 percent) will be essential.

 

How will the Jets navigate the Central Division?

In each of the three seasons since the 2012-13 NHL realignment, the Central Division has sent five teams to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Jets were among the qualifiers in 2014-15, when they finished fifth with 99 points. But a 21-point slide dropped them to seventh place last season, meaning they must pass at least two teams in order to return. Play within the division has proven critical, and the Jets' record of 11-16-2 last season wasn't nearly good enough. Winnipeg's division record of 16-8-5 in 2014-15 was a key to its playoff appearance.

 
Can Winnipeg add more youth and improve?

The Jets, clearly committed to their draft-and-develop model since the 2011 relocation from Atlanta, had a roster that was among the two or three youngest in the NHL for much of last season. Training camp has shown that more young players may be ready. Forwards Laine, 18, and Kyle Connor, 19, and defenseman Josh Morrissey, 21, could begin the season in the NHL.

 

How long will the Jacob Trouba saga linger?

Kurt Overhardt, the agent for the restricted free agent defenseman, made public his client's trade request on Sept. 24. Trouba was not at training camp and is looking at a Dec. 1 deadline to sign a contract, either with the Jets or another team, to be eligible to play in the NHL this season. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has difficult decisions ahead as he fields possible trade offers and considers what course of action to take.

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