The Jets begin their second year back in Winnipeg since moving from Atlanta. They club was rudely welcomed back to the NHL last year, although they did manage to best three of their Canadian cousins in the standings.
The Jets have a young core, but lack depth. Will the addition of Olli Jokinen be enough to overcome a brutal travel schedule and propel Winnipeg into the playoffs?
The Jets didn't have a lot of money to spend on off-season acquisitions, but lured in Olli Jokinen, previously with the Calgary Flames, to provide more size down the middle. Jokinen is a big body – 6 foot 2, 210 pounds – and produced 61 points in 82 games for the Flames last season, numbers that would lead you to believe there'd be a spirited bidding war for his services. But Jokinen is on his eighth NHL team now; and in 14 previous years, over a span of 1,042 regular-season games, has managed to eke into just six playoff games, something that needs to change this year.
How big is Buff?
Photos of Dustin Byfuglien circulating on the Internet during the lockout showed a big, happy, well-fed man, but he looked to be his usual self when camps opened. Officially, Byfuglien is listed as 6 foot 5, 265 pounds and has the ability to dominate a game in many different ways – physically, by joining the attack from the blueline and through his offence (53 points in 66 games, second best among NHL defencemen). As long as he his healthy and fit, Byfuglien can be a dynamic presence.
Is Ondrej Pavelec ready to break through?
Pavelec was busted for driving under the influence in the Czech Republic, but kept it quiet, even as he negotiated a five-year, $19.5-million (U.S.) contract extension. Upon arriving in Winnipeg, he made the obligatory apologies, but the clearest way to win back support of the fans and the organization is slicing a few percentage points off that 2.91 goals-against average from last year. Al Montoya is in from the New York Islanders and will get some minutes if Pavelec tires or falters.
How much travel is too much travel?
Post-lockout, with a schedule that keeps teams playing within their own conferences, the East has essentially become a commuter conference for every team except Winnipeg, parked out in there Central Time zone and in the same division again as four southern Sunbelt teams. Winnipeg will fly over 43,000 kilometres this year, most of its competitors a fraction of that. Improving last year's 27th-ranked road record (14-22-5) will be a challenge.
Can the love-in continue?
Jets fans fell all over themselves last year to embrace the NHL's return to Winnipeg and created a fabulous home environment that the team rode to a wholly respectable 23-13-5 record at the MTS Centre, which became a fairly intimidating building for visiting teams to play in. There were 5,000 in the stands for Sunday's open practice, suggesting the novelty hasn't worn off yet. No one can say how many points in the standings that support provides, but the Jets believe it does tangibly affect results.