So on Monday night, the Winnipeg Jets lost a tough, tough game in regulation to the Ottawa Senators, and that, combined with any result in last night’s game between Washington and Buffalo, all but eliminates the Jets from the playoffs.

There was a fair amount of consternation about this turn of events on Twitter, and coach Claude Noel acknowledged that, barring everyone in front of them bombing horribly in the final five or six games of the season and the Jets winning everything in front of them, the team was pretty much done. Playing for pride or whatever.

But the question I have, and maybe this is just me talking crazy, is, “How could anyone have thought this team could legitimately contend for a playoff spot?”

Now, this shouldn’t have been any type of a surprise to anyone that watched, say, four Jets games this season, and indeed, any one Atlanta Thrashers game the season before. They’re simply not a very good hockey team. Let’s not forget, they picked up Antti Miettinen off waivers as a means of rounding out the forward corps. The same Antti Miettinen who had eight points in 20 KHL games this year, which is to say: A bad player.

There are, it seems, three entirely distinct and separate reasons people thought the Jets would even come close to making the playoffs this year. The first is the fan support. It’s true, the Winnipeg Jets are an exceptional home team, in that they’re right near the bottom of the top third of the NHL, hovering ninth with 23 home wins from 39 games. That is, of course, an improvement over last year’s total of just 17 home wins in Atlanta, and  probably about the ceiling of what a team led in scoring by Blake Wheeler with 60 points or whatever can reasonably manage. It’s pretty easy to say this was the result of playing before 15,000 people who hadn’t seen an NHL game in person since the actual Jets left town, but it might also be that the Southeast has, generally, been pretty bad this season and it’s not that easy to fly to Winnipeg to play an in-division game if you’re based in Miami, Tampa, Washington or Raleigh.

Certainly, we’ve been led to believe that the rigors of just such a travel schedule have taken their toll on the Jets, which goes a long way to explain why their road record is so pathetic. Their road win total — of just 12 — is tied for second-to-last in the league ahead of only Columbus, and tied with Tampa. They’ve scored just 84 goals away from MTS Centre this year, and conceded 127. Those are just abysmal marks, and the sign of a team that simply isn’t very good, not, as Noel clamors, one that is simply physically exhausted from the rigors of flying a long way to play in its various road games. The Vancouver Canucks do the same thing, and they’ve won 22 away from home, so that argument doesn’t appear to hold a particularly large amount of water.

The above argument, however, brings us to the second reason people think the Jets were ever even close to being a playoff team: Their performance in December.

Oh boy, were the Jets ever good in December. Gosh, it was unbelievable. They won 10 of their 14 games between Dec. 1 and the end of the year. That’s really excellent. They scored 34 goals in those games. That’s only okay. They conceded 27. That’s really good. Especially if you consider seven of those were scored by Detroit in a single game.

But if you think about it, those stats are very problematic. First of all, those 10 wins are nearly 29 percent of the team’s season total, meaning that in their 62 games played in not-December, they’ve won just 25. And of course, that run of success in December also showed the team’s weakness. Just two of those games were played away from home: the 7-1 loss to Detroit, and a 4-1 win over then-abysmal Colorado. In that month, they went from 9-11-4 to 19-14-5, climbed to within just a few points of first place in the putrid Southeast Division.

Which, by the way, is the third reason. Remember that horrible day in February when the Jets clawed their way to the top of the Southeast and we all got to hear about just what a great team they were? It was Feb. 23. I looked it up. At the time, Washington and Florida were very much in the doldrums, the Caps without answers after an ill-advised coaching change, and the Panthers because they’re the Panthers. And the Jets, who earned points in five or six straight, got to the top of the division. They stayed there through the 25th, when the Panthers climbed back into the driver’s seat, dropping the Jets to eighth (which itself tells you everything you need to know about the quality of that division). Since that day, Winnipeg has won just five of its 12 games and their season, as of around 10 p.m. March 26th, came to its unofficial end. They might get as many as 84 or 85.

By the time the dust settles on this season, the Jets could — and probably will — be something like a dozen points back of the playoffs. Last year, the Thrashers finished with 80 points, 13 out of eighth. And so in the end, all playing in Winnipeg gets you might be half a dozen points or so, and at the end of the season, you’re still pretty much not bad or good enough to really expect much going forward.

You can take the team out of Atlanta…

Comments (21)

  1. Can you say with all honesty that when Florida was regressing (as expected) washington was imploding and Carolina/Tampa were near the bottom in the East that Winnipeg had no shot of winning that division?

    No one thought they were an exceptional team, it’s just that everyone else in their division was (are) not very good.

  2. I think a combination of two things lead to these false senses of hopes that permeate the fan bases of teams like Winnipeg and to an extent Minnesota. First, you have the parity in the league that results from the 3-point games. Every time a team gets a consolation point, they don’t fall down the standings quite as far as they would if they had lost in regulation. The result is that everyone still thinks they have a shot at the playoffs by the time we reach the All-Star break (except for that one team that is just awful like Columbus this season or New Jersey last season).

    The second phenomenon is that over the course of an 82 season teams will all eventually go on longer-than-normal winning or losing streaks. It’s just how things play out as a result of scheduling or other circumstance. Winnipeg had a very strong winning streak, as you mentioned, in December. Minnesota started the season very strong. When these streaks take place early in the season, everyone thinks you’re playoff bound. But over 82 games these things disappear and teams regress to their mean just like individual players tend to do and Minnesota and Winnipeg both regressed to their means.

    If the league did a better job of scheduling or if we got rid of the consolation point somehow then maybe we would have a better idea earlier in the season of which teams are actually not going to make the playoffs.

    Then again, the competition to claim those last few spots over the final three weeks is very exciting, but I don’t think that would go away anyhow.

  3. so blake wheeler isn’t capable of leading a “good” team in points?
    young players get better, this is just a really pessimistic look at a young team, i don’t understand how you can be so negative about the jets, thrashers fan? wanted quebec to get a team first? toronto a second?

    Blaming their good home record on travel and disputing that travel could have played a role in their road record doesn’t make sense to me, at all.

    “horrible day in February…” man, you are one depressing, negative individual, learn to write with a little less bias and a little more depth.

  4. Also, you bring up that Vancouver does the “same thing” as Winnipeg with regards to travel?

    Winnipeg’s two closest division rivals are Washington and Carolina, which are 2500 and 2700 KMs from Winnipeg, respectively. Or, 5200 total KMs (one way)

    Vancouver’s two closest division rivals are Calgary and Edmonton, who are 970 and 1160 KMs away (one way) respectively, or a total of 2130 KMs. In total, Vancouver travels less than half the distance Winnipeg does when travelling to their closest rivals.

    The Canucks play Colorado and Minnesota too, right? And they are the furthest from Vancouver in terms of geography? Well Denver is 2300 KMs from Vancouver, and Minneapolis is 2800 KMs (again, one way) for a total of 5100 KMs.

    Yes, that’s right, Vancouver’s 2 FURTHEST division rivals are still closer, in combination of total kilometers, are still closer to home than Winnipeg’s two CLOSEST division rivals.

    Just for giggles, it’s 3300 KMs from Winnipeg to TB, and 3600 from Winnipeg to Miami, or 6900 KMs total.

    All in all, from Winnipeg to their 4 division rivals is 12 100 KMs, while Vancouver’s total travel to their 4 division rivals is 7230 KMs, nearly 5000 kilometers less, or the equivalent of going from Vancouver to Montreal.

    Sorry, the math doesn’t add up. Vancouver (or any other team in the NHL) do not have a travel schedule that even closely resembles the schedule the Jets go through.

    • Lambert is a fool. Nothing he writes can be taken seriously.

    • Funny thing is Winnipeg doesn’t even log the most travel miles of a team in the Southeast. That “honor” belongs to what will be the eventual division champ Florida.

      The numbers can be found here: http://www.ontheforecheck.com/2011/6/23/2240779/nhl-travel-miles-by-team-super-schedule

      Winnipeg is somewhat surprisingly low from expectations coming in 10th in miles traveled in the league. Blaming their poor road record on travel is a joke. Perhaps they are getting a boost at home from the crowd/fans, but more likely is that they’re doing a good job of getting the matchups they want and/or hiding certain players from other teams top players while at home, a luxury they aren’t afforded on the road.

      • It’s not the total travel miles, but the division games that are concerning. The travel miles for any time will fluctuate from year to year based on who the NHL pairs them up with in their out-of-conference schedule. The divisional schedule makes up 30% of any team’s games,

        There’s a big difference between a 45-minute to 1 hour flight from Vancouver to Edmonton, or a 30 minute flight from Tampa Bay to Miami, than it is a 3-4 hour flight from Winnipeg to Raleigh.

        Case in point
        November 8-14 the Jets played 4 games (in order) @ Buffalo, vs. Florida, @ Columbus, vs. Tampa Bay. They flew from Buffalo, to Winnipeg, to Columbus, back to Winnipeg and played 4 games in 7 days (not surprisingly, they went 1-2-1).

        Once the realignment comes, it’ll be much more even.

        • Way to cherry-pick one set of 4 games. The chart also showed Winnipeg played the 4th fewest number of 1 game road trips, a total of 8. Clearly the league went out of their way to minimize the amount of times the scenario like you presented for Winnipeg occurred. Yes, divisional games make up a large amount of the schedule, but the back and forth for Winnipeg was no worse than it was for Florida. If you think realignment will help with travel, think again: 8 of the 10 teams with the most travel miles are in the Western Conference, and it would be 9/10 in WPG was in the west.
          The travel schedule is NOT the or a reason why Winnipeg isn’t going to the playoffs.

    • They aren’t traveling by stagecoach you know. They’re on chartered flights with basic security, door to door drop off service, fully catered food/drink, plush seating. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that no Jet was required to take a turn at the wheel and fly a bit. They relaxed in the midst of every possible convenience.

      and then after morning skate in the next town they took a nap.

      Poor, poor, nomads

  5. Why did anybody think Toronto had a chance to make the playoffs? Winnipeg gets ten percent of the coverage/hype Toronto does, and when we do it’s a story ripping the team.

  6. Jets’ problem has been that they are the intimidating, buzzing Jets at home and yet on the road they somehow turn into this underwhelming clone of the Thrashers.

    But on a more serious note their franchise is in a good shape, their core players are on the up and they got some very decent prospects, too. Guys like Burmistrov, Kane, Bogosian and Pavelec are only going to get better and the likes of Ladd, Byfuglien and Enstrom are just entering their prime. With a few good moves (maybe a #1 and shut-down C + a scoring winger) this team can be seriously contending in the coming years.

    • Q: How long has this franchise been looking for a #1 center?
      A: Since Marc Savard left for Boston 7 years ago

      #1 Centers don’t grow on trees

      • That’s very true, of course. Chances are that they won’t have a Crosby or a Giroux in the near future. Maybe Scheifele can become 1a/1b type of a guy and they can get some other guy to fill the other slot. The Bruins did all right with a 1a/1b type of center tandem last spring.

      • Just think how good this team could be if it could have retained talent. It’s not really fair to say that if they had Savard, Hossa(or Heatley), and Kovalchuk that they’d be competing for a cup since that likely means that they wouldn’t have Bogosian, Kane, etc…. but it would be fair to wonder how good the team would be with only Kovalchuk added since the return in that deal was zero.

  7. This entire article is based on the feelings of the fan base after December. Me being one of those fans can truly attest that in this city no one much expected this team to make the playoffs. Only after the aforementioned home tear in December did people here think “wow, we could make the playoffs”. We beat good teams, and lost to bad teams. The inconsistency points to how young this team really is. Burmistrov, Kane, Bogosian, Wheeler, Little are all 25 and under. We’ll have to wait and see how Scheifle develops, the D-line is okay, but has some strong pieces, and Pavelec is still not in his “goaltending prime” since goalies typically take longer to develop.

    Sorry Toronto sports culture, we’re not going to follow your lead by being impatient, making knee jerk reactions, and signing mediocre players to big contracts. This team is a work-in-progress. We don’t expect a contender now, we will wait and see how this team develops. You know… being patient, paying market value, building through the draft and having strong team-play and puck control.

  8. Lambert, I know you’ve wanted to write this “I told you so” column all year. But even you have to admit that you thought you’d be writing it a lot earlier than the 76-game mark.

    I think the fact that the Jets were even in the playoff conversation this year at all is more than any rational Jets fan could have asked for.

    Sure they used a waiver pick-up in Miettinen to help fill out their bottom six, but that was also partly out of necessity because one of their free agent signings DIED IN THE OFFSEASON.

    Comparing their road record to the Canucks makes no sense because nobody ever put them in a Cup-contending category and Vancouver plays in an equally awful division.

    • Honestly, I can’t blame people for thinking the Jets’d make the playoffs in December. At the same point last season Thrashers fans actually believed that they stood a chance. They’re a great December team and a pretty ok first half one, but they don’t have the mental wherewithal to go the whole year. They’re going to have to bust their butts to get rid of that Thrasher “eh, good enough” mindset. I would have thought that the home crowds would have snapped them out of it by now.

  9. Who the heck is Ryan Lambert?

  10. Who are you? Right. Not someone I should care about. You can write a blog like a professional but… Yeah, you’re not one

  11. In this comment section: “I don’t agree with your opinions so you are stupid”

    I’m surprised there aren’t more people whining.

    But like someone said above – aren’t you even a bit surprised that you weren’t writing this “told ya so” piece a month ago? I’m shocked they kicked around for so long.

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