The Winnipeg Jets franchise are now 0-8 in the NHL post-season since 1997, when the Atlanta Thrashers were formed, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t optimistic about how their season went.
It’s a fairly justified optimism. The club, expected to continue their rebuild over the course of this season and next, hit a roadblock midway through the year when player tensions saw two of the team’s top prospects dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in what would become known as the ‘Evander Kane Deal’; add in a slew of injuries to starting players and the ever-present question mark in net, and it was impressive that the club saw post-season action at all.
The off-season lies ahead now, though, and the players are looking forward to preparing for a new year.
During exit interviews, Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba admitted that he’d been playing with a broken left hand since game two of the Western Conference quarterfinals; the team estimates he’ll be out for roughly six to eight weeks before making a return to the ice. Captain Andrew Ladd will join Trouba on the off-season injured reserve list, as well — the 29-year-old winger has reportedly been playing through a hernia since Christmas, so he’ll get the chance to rest and recover before returning to the ice for training camp next fall.
In addition to injuries, the team talked about players who may or may not return next season.
A part of the Evander Kane trade, depth forward Drew Stafford has openly admitted that he’d like to be back next season. The former University of North Dakota winger spent the majority of his career with the Buffalo Sabres, and although he’s not putting up the point totals he used to — his best season saw him finish the 2010-2011 campaign with thirty-one goals — he’s still a competent, responsible depth player who can be relied on for ten to twenty goals a season. This year saw Stafford finish with eighteen goals over the span of both franchises he suited up with in the regular season, and he contributed in the playoffs with a goal and an assist in the four game series.
The biggest question going forward, of course, it what will happen in net.
The Jets began the year reliant on long-time starter Ondrej Pavelec, but shifted to rookie backup Michael Hutchinson for the middle of the season before returning to Pavelec following a slump for the younger netminder.
Although he finished the year with an awe-inspiring 189-minute shutout, though, Pavelec continued to struggle with consistency once the team hit the post-season. His rebound control and positioning allowed the Anaheim Ducks — the first team to officially advance beyond the conference quarterfinals in the league — too many easy goals. Although he shows streaks of being especially excellent, Pavelec continues to lack the consistency and poise needed to gain the team long-term success.
With Hutchinson’s late-year struggles, though, and Pavelec’s still-active contract, the team will have to determine whether someone needs to be dealt to make room for UMass Lowell star Connor Hellebuyck or if riding out the current tandem is still the best course of action.