The Winnipeg Jets failed to reach the sky-high expectations that their prior season set for them, but does that really make this season a disappointment?
Well, the Winnipeg Jets came close to a Stanley Cup berth in 2017-2018, falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Conference Final.
They stormed through the first round, 4-1, against Minnesota, and then had a beautifully fought out series against Nashville, prevailing in a Game 7 on the road. The final series was not what we all expected, but it was clear that Winnipeg had exceeded all expectations.
They were thought to be a fringe wild-card contender, and then stormed all the way to the Conference Final, netting 114 points along the way. It was a fun, wild ride and it ended too soon.
But we all knew this year would be a great shot for the Jets. The team would come in, knowing what was at stake, and we knew they’d be one of the NHL’s top teams.
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It never panned out that way. Injuries, inconsistencies and poor performance took over. Patrik Laine dealt with a back issue, but posted 20 fewer points from the year before.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien all missed big chunks of time as well. No young player broke out. Kristian Vesalainen spent most of the season in the KHL, Jack Roslovic never really got going, and Sami Niku looked good in sparse playing time.
But the Jets faltered, blew a rock solid shot at winning the division, and finished second to Nashville again, but only with 99 points. When people say you really miss Joel Armia, things didn’t go according to plan.
The team did miss Paul Stastny, but what was to be done about it. A first round exit was not unexpected, but it was disappointing. It was easier to swallow, learning of the injuries to Laine, Ehlers and Brandon Tanev in the playoffs.
But it was still a disappointment. Paul Maurice is now firmly on the hot seat, if not with the front office, most certainly with the fans. It’s easy to criticize in hindsight, but hey, that’s what expectations will do to you.
And with Laine and Connor Hellebuyck having seasons that could be considered mediocre, no youngster seizing an opportunity and more free agents than cap space, the future looks murkier than it did just a few short months ago.
It’s hard to argue that this season wasn’t a disappointment in almost every way. Josh Morrissey showed what he was capable of, but got hurt. Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler cemented themselves as NHL stars, but slowed down considerably at the end of the season.
There’s more to look forward to next year, but there will be changes in the roster. The cap space monster comes for all good NHL teams, and the Jets are no exception.
But we can look forward to hopefully better health, a Kristian Vesalainen sighting, and another year of Hellebuyck. Will he have a better season, or is this basically who he is? I’d lean toward a better season, but nothing like last year’s.
Free agency is a question, and we’ll dive into all that soon. Just…take some time, and be disappointed. It’s okay. We all expected more. Even the team. It happens. In the words of Blake Wheeler, “**** off, please man, this is a tough trophy to win”.