The Winnipeg Jets took a step or two back in 2018-2019, posting a 47-30-5 record good for second in the Central Division and fourth in the Western Conference. The previous season, the Jets put up 52 wins and were second in the Western Conference – and they posted 114 points, putting them second overall. Only the Nashville Predators were better.
Sure, you could argue that 2017-2018 was a lot to live up to. But the 2018-2019 season was an opportunity to prove something and Winnipeg came up short.
The Jets scored 272 goals in 2018-2019, putting them third in the Western Conference. Only the San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames scored more in their neck of the woods, while Chicago was just two goals behind. Winnipeg scored five more goals in 2017-2018, but the performance of Patrik Laine made all the difference in the world.
Laine was, in 2018-2019, an enigma. The 21-year-old finished with 30 goals, which doesn’t sound half bad if you don’t factor in his other two NHL seasons. 2018-2019 was his worst season by just about every statistical metric of note. He put up just 50 points in 82 games. Worse, he was a team-low minus-24. Bryan Little was second from the basement and he was a minus-12.
The Jets had three players with over 30 goals and, under most circumstances, that’s a good thing. Laine, Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele held it down offensively for Winnipeg. But Scheifele did it without becoming a defensive liability, finishing with a total of 84 points in 82 games and landing at a plus-eight.
Nikolaj Ehlers and Blake Wheeler had 21 and 20 goals, respectively, with Wheeler’s 91 points leading the squad.
Defensively, the Jets allowed 244 goals against. That puts them just about in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference, give or take a few goals. But in 2017-2018, Winnipeg allowed just 218 goals against. To put that in perspective, the Stanley Cup-winning Blues allowed 223 goals against in 2018-2019.
Some of that’s on goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who had the worst season of his NHL career. He posted a 2.90 goals against average, a fair shade off his career average and off the 2017-2018 mark of 2.36 by a lot. Hellebuyck’s 2018-2019 save percentage was .913, which was actually lower than his career average thanks to a dreary .907 save percentage in 53 starts in 2016-2017.
Laurent Brossoit was the backup and he responded well to the larger workload. He posted 13 wins in 19 starts, was responsible for just six losses, put up a 2.52 goals against average, achieved a .925 save percentage, and popped up for a shutout.
In the playoffs, the Jets collided with the St. Louis Blues in the first round and lost in six games. The series was, admittedly, a close one. Almost all of the games, save for the third, were one-goal contests.
2018-2019 was not an abject failure for the Winnipeg Jets, but it was not a success either. Anyone could’ve run into the Blues and lost by single-goal games in the first round, but Winnipeg had a special kind of irregularity out of some its better players. That has to be corrected.
Laine can bounce back and get back to form, but his RFA status could confound things for the short-term. The Jets have Laine and Connor to get signed and many believe the Mitch Marner waiting game is running roughshod on RFA negotiations this summer, as teams and players wait for the market to be set.
The good news is that Kevin Cheveldayoff has the money. The bad news is the holdup, which could set the stage for a complicated start to 2019-2020 – and that’s not going to do anyone any favours, especially considering what went wrong in 2018-2019.
Photo credit: NHL.com