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…