Winnipeg Jets Have Reason to Be Jolly As Christmas Break Arrives
Despite back-to-back losses, the Winnipeg Jets have more reasons to be happy than to say “Bah, humbug” as they enter a much-needed three-day Christmas break.
Jets are exceeding expectations this season
The Jets have a 21-12-1 record in 34 games, surpassing the expectations even the most supportive fan or pundit had in October for a team that trailed the Central Division playoffs last season. Their record is good for second place in the Central Division, three points behind the Dallas Stars with a game in hand.
It took the Jets until their 45th game last season to earn their 20th win (on February 12, 2022). It only took them until their 30th game to earn their 20th this season (on Dec. 18, 2022) — 15 games and almost two months earlier.
Their success is due to their stars’ timely attack, improved defensive strategy, outstanding goalkeepers, better special teams and good old hard work and determination. But most of all, they owe their remarkable turnaround and renewed ability to compete with the NHL’s heavyweights to their new head coach, Rick Bowness.
Bowness the Transformer
A robot in disguise, but only a man, Bowness has turned the Jets from an underachiever into a serious threat in no time.
The stern but caring 67-year-old has worked wonders for a number of players, whom he holds accountable but also encourages to improve. He’s turned Josh Morrissey into a Norris Trophy-worthy defender who dominates on offense – with 39 points, He’s already topped his best score of last season with more than half a season to go – and seems a step ahead of the competition. All it took was for Bowness to avoid Morrissey and let him be his best self.
He has turned Mark Scheifele into a player who goes full throttle with and without the puck. He turned Blake Wheeler into an asset and not a liability. He has higher expectations than his predecessor and it’s evident how they’ve responded that these players and other Jets were crying out for the dedicated style of coaching that Paul Maurice never offered.
He’s also transformed the power play from dowdy and predictable to creative, transformed the penalty shootout from terribly passive and ineffective to a top-five regime, and transformed the dressing room from broken and toxic to united and positive.
The most incredible part is that Bowness wasn’t even the team’s first pick and was only hired after Barry Defiance – who was fired by the New York Islanders and considered the biggest fish in the coaching pond last June – decided not to to jump straight back into coaching. One has to wonder if defiance couldn’t have done better.
Jets combat injuries with the “next man up” mentality
The Jets’ record is made all the more impressive by the number of injuries they’ve managed throughout the season and especially in the last few weeks.
The injured reserve is currently worth a cool $24 million with Mason Appleton, Nikolaj Ehlers, Saku Maenalanen, Nate Schmidt, Logan Stanley, Blake Wheeler and most recently Cole Perfetti all currently there with long-term ailments. In particular, the right flank has been decimated and the Jets have zero right wingers in their current lineup, which were in their lineup at the start of the season.
Cole Perfetti could also be among the injured as he sustained a shoulder injury late in the game against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 22, missed the Dec. 23 game against the Washington Capitals and needs an investigation.
It would be easy – and justifiable – for the Jets to blame a lack of success for missing so many key players. But excuses aren’t something Bowness accepts, unlike Maurice, who recently said they’re just “looking for solutions.”
The next-man-up mentality has been evident throughout the season. Role-playing players like Michael Eyssimont, Sam Gagner, Jansen Harkins, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Kevin Stenlund have stepped in and stepped up, while Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Adam Lowry are three of the few consistently healthy forwards.
Jets have to grind in the next few weeks
The Jets have three games left in their busy 16-game December. They will return to Canada Life Center from their vacation on December 27th to face the up-and-coming Minnesota Wild and then welcome the Vancouver Canucks on December 29th. They will conclude the Edmonton portion of their 2022 schedule with a New Year Eve meets the Oilers.
See also: Dear Santa: Winnipeg Jets wish list for 2023
January won’t bring much relief with 15 games scheduled and two back-to-back situations. Fortunately, a large influx of returnees is looming in the not-too-distant future, with Appleton, Ehlers and Maenalanen potentially returning in mid-January, and Schmidt and Wheeler potentially returning in late January or early February.
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Any player coming from injured reserve is a welcome development, but mid-January is seven games away, leaving the Jets to grind with existing staff until then. If they can play .500 hockey until they’re healthier, they’ll stay in a good position to make the playoffs – which would be a very late but great Christmas present for their fans.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a BA in Creative Communications with a major in Journalism from Red River College and a BA in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Steeped in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets left town when he was two and the 2.0 version hit the scene when he was 17.