Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Winnipeg Jets. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
It was the biggest story of the off-season; the NHL returning to Winnipeg with the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers. The Jets inherited a roster that finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last season but have some players to get excited about for 2011-12.
Those players include established starters Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, and young up-and-comers Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov. Ladd and Byfuglien came over together from Chicago a year ago, fresh off a Stanley Cup, and will hope to build on their breakout seasons last year, while Kane and Burmistrov, two former first-round selections, will look to continue their upward trajectory this year.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: The team's first-round selections from the last two years, Burmistrov and Kane especially, established themselves as important cogs for the Jets moving forward, and the next to do so will likely be Patrice Cormier.
Cormier was the main piece in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade with the New Jersey Devils two years ago. He had a tough year last year, splitting time between the Thrashers and their AHL affiliate in Chicago while also missing a total 47 games to foot and upper body injuries. The talented winger will have every chance to stick with the Jets all season this year and if he can stay healthy, could be the next in a line of prospects to become important components in Winnipeg.
Breakout Player to Watch: After a strong rookie season with the Bruins in 2008-09, Blake Wheeler seemed poised to break out and become an offensive weapon in Boston. And while he never did get to the next level with the Bruins, Wheeler's breakout season could come with the Jets.
The 24-year-old winger has talent - he was taken fifth-overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004 - and put up 17 points in 23 games after being traded from Boston to Atlanta last year. With a good shot at plenty of ice time in Winnipeg, Wheeler could put up the best numbers of his career, and become an offensive leader on a young Jets team.
Marquee Match-Up: Dec. 1 vs. Coyotes - Old Jets vs. New Jets. Winnipeg will play the team that once held their name first on October 15 in Phoenix, but Jets fans will get a chance to see the team that left their city 15 years ago in early December. And while it's a completely different team in Phoenix 15 years later, one Jets alum who will return is Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who spent his rookie year in Winnipeg before the move.
Other Dates To Watch: Oct. 9 - Hockey returns to Winnipeg in style with a matchup against the Canadiens. Nov. 19 - Boo birds will be out for Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who said he would rather play in the KHL then move to Winnipeg. Dec. 17 - The long-awaited return of fan favourite Teemu Selanne.
Reason To Get Excited: Jets fans have had a reason to be excited since the end of May - when the NHL officially returned to Winnipeg - but when the season starts, another big reason will be Kane, the talented third-year winger. Kane was given the blessing of Bobby Hull to don his No. 9 with the (old) Jets, and while it may be too much to ask of the young star to be the next Golden Jet, he appears to be on the rise as one of the league's top young forwards. Kane increased his point total by nearly 20 from Year 1 to Year 2 and fell one goal shy of a 20-goal season. If he continues his progression, he will be one of the team's top scorers.
Home Hardware: While he isn't among the most conventional defencemen in the league, there's no arguing Byfuglien's effectiveness. The big d-man was fourth amongst all blueliners in points last year with 53, and if he continues to wrack up power play time alongside Tobias Enstrom (tied for fifth in scoring among d-men) he could climb even higher on that list and make a case for Norris consideration as an offensive defenceman.
On The Hot Seat: Defenceman Zach Bogosian was a question mark through the first three years of his career in Atlanta. The 21-year-old defenceman has undeniable talent, which he has shown in flashes, but has yet to perform on a consistent basis. It's now a matter of whether the Jets give up and trade him before he can produce any real answers. Partly a result of his draft status – he was selected third overall by the team in 2008 – and partly a result of other young d-men finding early success in the NHL - patience may be wearing out for Bogosian to become a steady contributor.
It's Your! Call: Will a packed house be enough to propel the Jets into the playoffs their first year back?
The Thrashers, who had a strong start to the season last year before tailing off and falling out of the playoff race, were routinely playing in front of sparse crowds at home.
Atlanta was third-worst in the league in both average attendance (13,469) and percentage of capacity (72.6). Those numbers won't follow the team to Winnipeg. A number of Jets players have been proclaiming their excitement over the opportunity to play in front of a full house all summer long, adding how they think it will help to energize the team.
But will the extra noise at the MTS Centre be enough? The Jets return a relatively intact roster that finished 12th in the Eastern Conference last year, 13 points out of the playoffs. How many wins is a hardcore fan base worth?