There was a lot of excitement last night as the new Winnipeg Jets played their first preseason game in Winnipeg. There was significantly less excitement in Columbus as the other halves of the Jets and the Blue Jackets took to the ice at nearly the same time. Whose idea was that anyway?

Regardless, we’re betting that there will be even more excitement on October 9, when the Jets play their first regular season game against the Montreal Canadiens at home. But will the new Jets get to play their first playoff game this year as well?

It’s no secret that the Atlanta Thrashers weren’t a very successful hockey team. They qualified for the playoffs only once in their history and they were swept in the first round. It’s no wonder the team struggled to attract fans and sell tickets. Last season it looked like they would actually contend for a playoff spot, but that fell apart rather quickly as the season went on. Will this year be any different?

As we’ve learned in Edmonton, Toronto, Minnesota and others, playing in a hockey mad city isn’t enough to make you a contender.

The Jets did a good job during the offseason of re-signing important members of their core. Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd are all returning to the team this year. Those players were a big part of the Thrashers success during the early months of the 2010-2011 season and they will be key parts of the Jets going forward.

However, the Thrashers fell short of its playoff goal last year and the Jets haven’t done too much to add players to their team during the offseason that would change that this season. Kyle Wellwood, Kenndal McArdle and Eric Fehr are among the players that are joining the team this year. Fehr, especially, is a solid addition to the team, but he isn’t the type of player that will transform a team into a contender.

On the bright side of things, the team’s young talent is now another yet older and those players have likely gained some valuable experience since last season ended. Players like Aleksandr Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little, Evander Kane and others are getting closer to the prime of their careers and they will likely be better players than they were last year. In addition, Ondrej Pavelec is a talented goaltender. He’s also excited about the team’s future.

“Absolutely, we can make the playoffs. We’re a young team but we’re a year older and we have more experience,” Pavelec told the Winnipeg Free Press.

“We lost eight in a row at one stretch [last season] and any team that does that won’t make the playoffs. But if we don’t lose those games we make the playoffs and that has to be our focus this season.”

This team is young, talented and now more experienced than they were last year. All of those factors add up to a great deal of potential in Winnipeg. If management can hold the majority of the team together and if everyone continues to grow and progress as they should, the Jets will likely be a contender in the years to come.

But they probably won’t make the playoffs this year.Of course, they don’t have to make the playoffs this year. Enthusiasm for the team is incredibly high and 13,000 season tickets have been sold for the next five seasons. All the Jets have to do is become competitive at some point in those five years and things will be fine. Looking at the team as it is right now, it’s not hard to see them having a bright future. The Jets didn’t need to rush to become a competitive team quickly – and possibly sacrifice that bright future – so they didn’t do so. It isn’t the flashiest strategy available, but it’s a smart one.

We’re pretty sure the Jets would have a huge, loyal fanbase if they lost every game this season anyway.

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