From the moment the NHL announced its return to Winnipeg, the
city’s focus turned immediately to the future: What would the team
be called? What would the sweaters look like? Who would the first
But new general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was just as
interested in looking back at what happened before the Atlanta
Thrashers migrated north.
”I think you have to look at the past a little bit in the sense
that (last year) was a tale of two seasons,” said Cheveldayoff,
who was hired in June to replace Rick Dudley. ”The first half they
came out and played exceptionally well, and the second half of the
season something went wrong. You look at all the little indicators,
you look at some of the things that maybe you can improve
That was particularly important because the roster remains
nearly unchanged. Six defensemen and both goaltenders have returned
from the NHL’s 29th-ranked team in goals against – not to mention
roughly two-thirds of the forwards.
Atlanta found itself in playoff position midway through last
season before going 14-21-6 down the stretch and tumbling to 12th
in the Eastern Conference.
A number of key players slumped, including big defenseman Dustin
Byfuglien who had just 13 of his 53 points in the second half and
top goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who had a .893 save percentage in 31
appearances after Dec. 31.
”I think the pace of our game dropped off,” captain Andrew
Ladd said. ”The big thing for us was getting up the ice and
putting pressure on other teams and forcing them to make mistakes.
Once you have one or two guys not getting there in time, it gives
teams an opportunity to get (the puck) out of their own end and get
on the attack.
”Obviously, we gave up too many goals,” he added. ”You can
point to a few things, but we had a young team and we can learn
from that and not make that mistake twice.”
It will be up to new coach Claude Noel and his staff to make
sure it doesn’t happen again.
The 55-year-old was given his first full-time NHL head coaching
job after Cheveldayoff decided not to retain Ramsay. He was interim
coach in Columbus for 24 games following Ken Hitchcock’s departure
in February 2010 and spent last season in Winnipeg coaching the
AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
The biggest unknown about the Jets season is what impact, if
any, playing in a new city will have on the team’s performance.
Dating back to the Atlanta Flames move to Calgary in 1980, the last
six NHL franchises to relocate averaged an 11-point improvement in
their first year in a new setting.
For players who had grown accustomed to the relative anonymity
they enjoyed with the Thrashers, there will be an adjustment period
now that they’re the biggest game in town.
”Definitely it’s a big change,” third-year forward Evander
Kane said. ”Coming to a Canadian market and a Canadian city where
hockey is No. 1. We’ve got some passionate fans, and a passionate
province, so I think it’s a fresh start for everybody.”
Kane is the most intriguing player in the lineup. At just 20
years old, he’s expected to improve on a 19-goal season from a year
ago and could develop into the team’s most dynamic offensive
The Jets also will lean heavily on the line of Ladd, Bryan
Little and Blake Wheeler and look for some added contributions from
returnees Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov.
On the blue-line, Byfuglien is expected to log big minutes
again. The 26-year-old also will have to deal with some off-ice
issues after being charged with boating while intoxicated over the
Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Mark Stuart, Johnny Oduya, Ron
Hainsey and Randy Jones round out the defense corps, while Chris
Mason will back up Pavelec in goal.
One of the biggest challenges for the Jets will be enduring the
wait for the regular season opener against Montreal on Oct. 9. It
comes more than a week after the team wraps up the preseason.
”It’s kind of like everything for us this year,” Cheveldayoff
said. ”There’s been a lot of preparation and a lot of time that’s
gone in, but at the end of the day you just want to get things
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