It seems like just yesterday that I was contacted to be the newest writer for JetsCentre. However, that was just a dream a couple of weeks ago and I had to beg my way here. So let’s get this show on the road shall we?
Last season could be defined with a multitude of words. Gripping, unexpected, shocking, and maybe tumultuous? Whichever word that you use to describe what was nothing less than exciting, there are no trophies awarded for exceeding expectations and there is plenty of work ahead with a team that now has a taste for blood. A team that now has an identity across the league.
After a disappointing 2016-17 season that had a glimmer of hope with seven straight wins at the end of the year, the Jets came into October with a roster that looked much of the same other than one noticeable difference, a goaltender that could take the team to the next step. A cry heard from fans across the two-oh-four. Fast forward to the evening of October 7th, and the saviour between the pipes had a .831 save percentage through two games. The Jets were 0-2 and outscored 13-5 after excitement had built up for much of the off-season about the new and experienced look in the blue paint. This is where everything changed.
Paul Maurice went back to his goalie from the previous season who at times showed promise that he would be the future of this organization. Games three, four and five were passed back to the poised netminder who put up incredible numbers and had the Jets faithful optimistic about the season once again. #37 would not look back.
From there, the Jets looked stoic. Able to brush off any bumps in the road, and showing their modesty even when Stanley Cup talk swept through the media with Blake Wheelers quote on the eve of Valentines Day “we havent even made the (expletive) playoffs yet” even when the playoffs were entering plain sight. With long term injuries to number one centre Mark Scheifele (16 games) and key defencemen Toby Enstrom (39 games) and Jacob Trouba (27 games,) the Jets could not be slowed.
Rolling into round one of the playoffs, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that the geographical rival Wild would be no match for the fast, strong and determined group that had taken three of four in the regular season. After a slow start in game one, the Jets over-powered the Minnesota team which failed to figure out the Winnipeg offence that was expected to do as much to a team who was a question mark for the playoffs until the conclusion of the season. The Jets finally had their first playoff win in franchise history, and the city of Winnipeg had their first since April 26, 1996. Apart from a non-appearance in game three, the Jets methodically moved on to round number two, and a noticeable buzz swept through the province as the juggernaut had arrived, the Nashville Predators.
In a series that was supposedly going to produce the eventual cup winner, fans from both teams were treated by nothing less than what was touted from media weeks prior to the season ending. Although five of seven games were decided by three goals or more, the series was tooth and nail until handshakes. Fans stood nervously, shoulder to shoulder in the streets of Winnipeg, as if every game was game seven. Inside the building there was boisterous cheering and clapping as the pre-game antics built up excitement to keep the white-clad crowd of 15,321 from chewing their nails to the bone. When it was all said and done, the Jets had done it; ousted the Presidents Trophy winners.
Once the Western Conference finals had rolled around, there was a sudden realization that the newly expanded team in Las Vegas was no joke. They had defied “experts” and fans across the league. As the series opened in BellMTS Place however, the uncertainty turned into premature jubilation as it had appeared that face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury had finally been solved after posting an incredible .951 save percentage through two rounds. After this, the Golden Knights used their incredible speed, breakout ability and timely goals to stifle a Jets squad that was exhausted from a seven game series days earlier. Suddenly, heartbreak swept the streets that were once filled with 25,000 screaming and drunken fans and left everybody thinking, whats next?
So, here we are today. As of the time of writing Jacob Trouba has been awarded $5.5 million for one season (which has yet to, but inevitably will be, accepted by the team) and Tanev will avoid arbitration to join a fourth line that has yet to be pulled into focus. Also joining these players in their return are Adam Lowry and Connor Hellebuyck who were both without contracts.
Stastny has moved on to a team that is undoubtedly on the top of many fans hit list. At the end of the day however, Stastny was not getting $6.5 million printed on the dotted line with a team who has younger assets that will make this team a contender in years to come.
Toby Enstrom will be missed dearly on the left side despite what many will say. The quiet defenceman may not have had an all-star season. Sure, he may have been injured. This should be overshadowed by the fact that his hockey IQ and ability to move the puck is what the Jets may miss this season.
In conclusion, this was a heck of a year that does not appear to be taking a step back this off-season. Personally, it’s still tough to focus on hockey. The numerous late night trips and the countless dollars spent on tickets and street parties were all still worth it. Although this team and its fans may have boxed a hell of a match just to get knocked down near the end, there will be a time when you brush off your shoulders and realize that there is always next time to come back stronger while learning from the previous experience. And there is a damn good chance it will start in a couple of months from now.