The NHL returns to Mannitoba as the Atlanta Thrashers now become the Winnipeg Jets. They will struggle in the Southeast but should find themselves above Florida battling with Carolina for third place.
The Atlanta Thrashers have a
new home in Mannitoba, a new star in Evander Kane, and are looking for new
postseason results: as the Thrashers, the franchise never won a playoff game. Fans seem excited, and seeing that the Jets sold 13,000 season tickets in 17 minutes, this is a team that looks to have found a home.
Are the Winnipeg Jets a team with any NHL betting value, or is this young team one wildcard to leave on the back burner for a few years?
1. Evander Kane
The left wing has been
right at home in the NHL since he first played for Atlanta two seasons ago as
an 18-year old. As a rookie, Kane scored 14 goals and 26 points. Last year, he
increased that output to 19 goals and 43 points, suggesting that he is on the
cusp of superstardom. Certainly he should eclipse 50 points this year, and look
good while doing it, wearing Bobby Hull's old no. 9 jersey. The arrow is
pointing up on Kane in this, his contract year.
2. Former Chicago Blackhawks
Jets are eager to see Kane become a 50-point player, they already have one in
the fold with Ladd. Ladd plays extensive minutes on the power play, penalty
kill and even strength. He's an efficient player too, with a 14.9 percent
shooting percentage, and he's only 25.
20-goal scoring defenseman Dustin
Byfuglien may be even more important to the Jets. Besides being a deft scorer,
he's also a 6'5, 265-lb beast who may be the most physical player in the
league. He was one of the most valuable players to the 2009-10 Blackhawks
Stanley Cup victory, and it's impossible to picture Winnipeg making the
playoffs without Byfuglien playing a similar role.
Winnipeg hockey fans will have
a chance to watch a generation of new Jets mature and grow into a contender, as
the inaugural roster has only five players age 30 or older. Backup goaltender
Chris Mason is the old man of the group at 35.
Young potential stars at forward
include the aforementioned Kane, as well as 19-year old Alexander Burmistrov,
21-year old Patrice Cormier, and 23-year old Bryan Little. In this company,
25-year olds like Ladd and Washington Capitols import Eric Fehr look like the
1. Playing with the lead
as the Thrashers, Atlanta gave away 90 percent of its one-goal leads. In fact,
the Thrashers couldn't hold any lead with any reliability, giving away two-goal
leads 61.54 percent of the time, and coughing up 20 percent of three-goal
leads. In fact, Atlanta was the worst team in the league with a .489 winning
percentage when scoring first.
2. Loss of Anthony Stewart
Jets remain a young team with lots of upside, you can never have too many young
goal-scoring forwards on the upswing, and that's exactly what Winnipeg gave up
when Stewart left for division rival Carolina. Stewart projects as a top-six
forward for the Canes, and should be a 6'2", 240-lb thorn in the Jets'
side for the next few seasons.
3. Blake Wheeler's decline
rookie year of 2008-09 with Boston, Wheeler's point output has gone from an
impressive 45 to 38, to 27, and to 17 last year, when he was traded in February
to Atlanta. Winnipeg made a 2-year, $5.1 million bet that Wheeler can become
the player many thought he would become, back when he was a stud at the
University of Minnesota.
4. Scoring and getting scored on
Atlanta's -46 goal differential was fourth-worst in the league last year,
better only than train wrecks like Edmonton, Colorado, and Ottawa. Last year
all but two teams with positive differentials made the playoffs, while no teams
with negative differentials did. With 223 goals scored, Atlanta was just south
of middle of the road on offense, and should move into the upper half of the
league on offense due to the natural maturation of its young forwards.
The team's defense is more worrisome, as
it gave up a 28th-ranked 269 goals against last year and was not upgraded
through free agency. The two best Winnipeg defensemen are more
offensively-oriented players, as Byfuglien led the team in shots on goal (by
more than 100, 347 to Kane's 234), and Swede Tobias Enstrom is a playmaker
extraordinaire, with 41 assists.
Enstrom and Byfuglien were 1-2 on the team in
assists. For this team to be even mediocre, Johnny Oduya and restricted free
agent Zach Bogosian need to play at or slightly above their ceilings.
Improvement from goalie Ondrej Pavelec in his third year as Atlanta's
unchallenged starter would also help.
Fourth place in Southeast division, two
or three games over .500. Washington and Tampa Bay, last year's 100-point
scorers within the division, are not going anywhere, and Florida looks like a
certain doormat once again. This means the real race is for third place,
between Winnipeg and Carolina. Based on last year's goal differentials,
Carolina has the edge, with a -3 differential to Winnipeg's -46. The Jets will
need many of their young players to come of age, and improve drastically in
every phase of the game to make the playoffs for the second time in franchise
Bodog has released it's future NHL odds with Winnipeg listed at a 50/1 shot for the Stanley Cup Title.