Regardless of their record, last season had to be considered a huge success for hockey fans in Winnipeg for the simple reason they got their Jets back.
On The Mark?
After playing nine games with the Jets last season, 2011 first rounder Mark Scheifele will look to crack the lineup when the season begins.
It was a year-long party at the MTS Centre and opposing teams knew it. Jets fans filled the arena every game, providing Winnipeg with a home ice advantage few other NHL buildings could match.
The on-ice performance, however, didn't live up to the enthusiasm in the stands. Despite all the optimism and confidence in Winnipeg heading into the season, the team was still, in effect, the Atlanta Thrashers team that missed the postseason the year before.
The Jets managed to hang around the playoff picture for a decent segment of the season, but could never crack the top eight before tailing off towards the end of the year, finishing fourth in their division and 11th in the Eastern Conference.
This year, simply having a team won't be enough for fans who will be more concerned with results. The Jets will lean on a young core of exciting players with the hope they can grow up quick and lead the team into the postseason.
So can the young talent in Winnipeg mask the holes still detectable on the Jets roster? And combined with the great home-ice advantage they'll surely enjoy once again in 2012-13, will it be enough to propel the Jets into the playoffs?
Mark Scheifele almost made the Jets out of camp in 2011-12 after a team-leading eight pre-season points. He stuck with the club for the first seven games, registering one goal before being returned to the OHL's Barrie Colts. He's picked up this year, tearing up the OHL before being one of Canada's bright spots at an otherwise-disappointing World Junior tournament.
Speaking of the Juniors, Jacob Trouba (the Jets' ninth-overall pick in 2012) was seen as one of the biggest reasons for the Americans winning gold. His movement and two-way play paved the way to him winning the tournament's Best Defenceman Award.
The Jets also grabbed gritty, two-way forward Lukas Sutter in the second round.
The Jets had a lot of young and talented players up and down their roster last year to get excited about. But when it's all young talent, there isn't much experience to lean on through the trials of a full regular season.
That said, the team added veterans Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky this past summer, doubling the number of forwards on the team that are in their 30s.
Along with experience, Jokinen and Ponikarovsky can bring leadership to the Jets as well. Ponikavorsky has 62 career postseason games under his belt while Jokinen captained the Florida Panthers for four seasons.
It was apparent one of the Jets' off-season goals was to land a backup goalie they were comfortable with.
After failing to come to terms with former Leafs backup Jonas Gustavsson (whom the team acquired prior to free agency for a conditional draft pick) and watching last year's backup Chris Mason sign in Nashville, the Jets were left with Al Montoya - who spent last year with the Islanders.
Montoya put together a strong finish to the 2010-11 season, but did little to justify any confidence with his play last year. He joins Winnipeg sporting a career .906 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.
A look at where Jets players went during the lockout:
Nik Antropov (Barys Astana, KHL), Alexander Burmistrov (St. John's, AHL), Patrice Cormier (St. John's, AHL), Tobias Enstrom (EC Red Bull Salzburg, Austria), Evander Kane (Dinamo Minsk, KHL – short), Carl Klingberg (St. John's, AHL), Ondrej Pavelec (Bili Tygri Liberec, Czech League), Alexei Ponikarovsky (HC Donbass, KHL), Blake Wheeler (Red Bull Munchen, German Elite)
Bob McKenzie's Breakdown
The Jets begin their second season in Winnipeg and while they patiently await a shift to the Western Conference that won't come until next season at the earliest, they'd like to think they can make a move into the Eastern Conference playoff picture this season.
It will be a challenge. The Jets might be a little thin on the blue line if Zach Bogosian's recovery from wrist surgery takes some time. The original prognosis was four to six months and the five-month mark will be at the end of January. He's just started skating again, which is good, but skating and being able to shoot, stickhandle and take contact are worlds apart.
Bogosian's play took a big step forward last season and Winnipeg desperately needs him back in their top four.
As long as big Dustin Byfuglien shows up in reasonable shape, he and Tobias Enstrom give the Jets a legit first pair. Until Bogosian is back, Mark Stuart and Ron Hainsey will have to log top four minutes and Winnipeg is hoping to get serviceable minutes from both Grant Clitsome and Paul Postma. Veteran Derek Meech and youngster Zach Redmond could also figure in the picture, but with a surplus of draft picks, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff may be exploring some trade options to get help on the blue line.
Netminder Ondrej Pavelec could go a long way towards insulating Winnipeg's lack of depth on defence. No question he's the main man in net with Al Montoya slated to be his back up.
Up front, the jets are led by the cohesive, returning first line of Bryan Little between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler. They'll have to produce. Free-agent signee Olli Jokinen will try to develop chemistry with Evander Kane on the second line and it's anybody's guess who fills out the third spot. Underager Mark Scheifele, a natural centre, may get a look there but Kyle Wellwood and Antti Miettinen are candidates as well.
It would make sense to try to recreate some chemistry between big Nik Antropov and his former Toronto Maple Leaf running mate Alexei Ponikarovsky on a third line. Alex Burmistrov also has to figure into the equation somewhere in the Top 9 forwards, but he's been dealing with a shoulder injury in St. John's.
Depth forwards Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn are obviously on the roster while other hopefuls include ice cap possibilities Patrice Cormier, Spencer Machacek and Carl Klingberg.
Winnipeg fans love having their Jets back and there's no more raucous place to play than Winnipeg. The love affair is still in full bloom, but there are some holes in this lineup and the challenge will be to defend better and more consistently than they did last season.