In the days leading up to opening night on Oct. 6 against the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, DallasStars.com's Scott Burnside will break down the Stars and their six opponents in the Central Division. Continuing our previews today: the Winnipeg Jets.
Sept. 28 -- St. Louis Blues
Sept. 27 -- Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets: 40-35-7; missed the playoffs
Honeymoon over, it's time to win: Let's start with the obvious. Since the Atlanta Thrashers came into the NHL in 1999 -- and following through their move to Winnipeg in the summer of 2011 -- they have failed to win a single playoff game. The team has managed one playoff appearance in each city and been swept both times (2007 in Atlanta and 2015 in Winnipeg). And as much as Winnipeg is a fine hockey town, the honeymoon is most definitely over in the prairie city, and that's why this season looms so large on so many levels, but especially for head coach Paul Maurice, who was tabbed by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to lead the team after Claude Noel was fired back in January 2014. Both Cheveldayoff and Maurice received contract extensions prior to the start of training camp, as they should. But it's incumbent on Maurice, the second-youngest NHL coach to 500 wins, to get off to a good start and pre-empt the annual discussion of why the Jets stink, and whether a coaching change is needed.
Potential for success is there: The good news is that pretty much everyone loves what Cheveldayoff has done in building a tough, big, fast, talented hockey club. Patrik Laine was second in rookie of the year voting to Auston Matthews after Matthews and Laine went one-two in the 2016 draft. Laine didn't disappoint with 36 goals and his cocksure attitude suggests he'll be motivated to build on those numbers this season. Observers are already pegging winger Kyle Connor as another potential Calder finalist as he's expected to join Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers as part of a dynamic young offensive corps this season.
On the Mark: He may not have the name recognition of other youngsters like Matthews, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel -- but make no mistake, if the Jets are going to finally lift off (sorry, had to throw in the proverbial airplane reference), it will be on the shoulders of franchise center Mark Scheifele, who was a surprise pick of the Jets with the seventh-pick overall in 2011. No one is questioning that pick now after Scheifele's 82-point season. At just 24, he's become the go-to guy on the Jets roster, and for our money, is knocking on the door as a top-five pivot in the league.
Round and round the goaltending carousel goes: What do almost all of the Thrasher and Jets rosters have in common apart from never winning any games in April? Lousy goaltending and defense. Weird how the two go hand in hand. With Connor Hellebuyck unable to rise to the occasion as a starter last season, and the Jets finishing 27th in the league in goals allowed per game at a ghastly 3.11, the Jets' goalie carousel has stopped on Steve Mason. The former Rookie of the Year had his moments in Philadelphia, but simply not enough of them. Unless he's markedly better than he was last season, when he turned in a .908 save percentage behind a very young Flyers team, the Jets won't have to worry about bursting that playoff win bubble next April.
To trade, or not to trade: So, is Jacob Trouba staying or going? A year ago, the former ninth-overall pick in 2012 announced via his agent he'd asked to be traded out of Winnipeg. Ouch. But after much debate, and toing and froing, Trouba signed a two-year deal, which means the Jets will be in the same boat next summer in having to get the big right-handed shot defender under contract. Unless, of course, they figure it's better to move him. Either way, a watershed moment upcoming for Cheveldayoff.
It's entirely possible the Jets win the Central Division. In which case, we'll pretend we picked them to do so. But we're not sold on Mason, and in fact, if Semyon Varlamov stays healthy in Colorado, it's possible the Jets will have the seventh-best goaltending in the Central. That's not how to punch a ticket to the playoffs.
Jets finish fifth in the Central Division.
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.