Jets have plenty of holes to fill

The Sports Xchange
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The first season of the Jets back in Winnipeg was a resounding success everywhere but in the standings.

The Jets missed the playoffs in their first season after moving from Atlanta, finishing with a 37-35-10 record. They finished 11th in the Eastern Conference and were nine points out of a postseason berth.

It's not much of a surprise, really. The Atlanta Thrashers missed the playoffs 10 of the 11 years they were in Georgia, so not many pundits were expecting a postseason berth and a long playoff run.

The Jets had several glaring weaknesses that were obvious going into the campaign. First of all, their offense, for the most part, was nowhere to be found on too many occasions. Their top players were either too young or had not established themselves as bona fide NHL scorers.

On defense, they got pushed around too much. Their blue-liners provided plenty of offense, but the team just didn't have a defensive presence in their own end that is needed in today's NHL. That applies to the forwards as well. The opponents did too much cycling, and the Jets gave up the fifth-most goals this season. That was ultimately Winnipeg's biggest problem.

Another deficiency was the teams' road play. Winnipeg was a paltry 14-22-5 outside of Manitoba, and head coach Claude Noel said before the season his team needed to be at or around .500 if they were going to be a playoff team. He was bang on.

So the Jets need more scoring, although it sounds like they're going to develop what they have. That could take a while. Left wing Evander Kane scored 30 goals, which was a pleasant surprise, but his overall play was inconsistent. Another youngster, center Alex Burmistrov, was invisible for large chunks of the season.

The Jets should go out and find a couple of second-tier free agents who can provide a little more offense. The general belief is the Jets this season were a team with one second line, one third line and two fourth lines ? not exactly a recipe for success.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to find better top six forwards, and he is unlikely to locate them in the organization. He needs to go outside for help, or it's going to be another long year with terrible offensive stretches.

On defense, a little more size wouldn't hurt. They have small, offensive players who get pushed around too much. Defenseman Toby Enstrom, for example, is a gifted player on the back end, but they need a little more beef back on the blue line. He is someone who might be decent trade bait.

Between the pipes, goalie Ondrej Pavelec didn't have the best numbers in the league by a mile, but he was a steady presence between the pipes and should only improve. He's 24, and he's getting closer to being that bona fide No. 1 netminder. He still needs to get better next season and steal a few more games.

The Jets didn't need to make the playoffs this year for it to be a success, but that will change in Year 2.

SEASON HIGHLIGHT
Without a doubt, it was the first game of the season, the home-opener on Oct. 9 against the Montreal Canadiens. After 15 years of no NHL hockey in Winnipeg, it returned. Many thought it never would. The return of the Jets was the province's top story of 2011, so their first game was the epicenter of the madness. Grown men cried. People cheered until they were hoarse. The Jets lost 5-1, but it didn't matter one bit because the Jets were back.

TURNING POINT
Unfortunately for the Jets and their fans, March 18 will go down as the day that their playoff hopes took the biggest and ultimately fatal hit. The Jets, who were only two points out of playoff position at the time, led the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 going into the third period. It all fell apart over those final 20 minutes, however, and the Hurricanes won 4-3. The Jets never recovered and ended up missing the postseason by quite a bit.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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