If the Winnipeg Jets do nothing all year, their fanbase will still be ecstatic that hockey is back in Winnipeg after a 15-year hiatus.
And while the Jets weren’t major players in the free-agent market over the offseason, the organization has been busy since True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd. agreed to a deal to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers on May 31 with the plan of moving the club to Winnipeg.
The first big move made by True North was the hiring of Kevin Cheveldayoff to be the general manager. Cheveldayoff then hired Claude Noel to be the new head coach. Noel was an interim coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and knows the market well from his time as coach of the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.
Although Winnipeg will essentially have the same lineup they had during their final season in Atlanta, there still was some turnover during the summer. Anthony Stewart signed with Carolina, Eric Boulton signed with New Jersey and trade deadline pickup Radek Dvorak signed with Dallas. While these aren’t major losses, Winnipeg was not only able to cover them, they actually added to their depth.
The newcomer likely to have the biggest impact is right wing Eric Fehr, who was acquired from the Washington Capitals for a fourth-round draft pick. Fehr, who grew up in Manitoba, had a down you least season for the Capitals and only participated in 52 regular-season games. However, the former first-round pick and one-time 20-goal scorer with be given more ice time now that he is out of the shadows of such players as Ovechkin, Semin and Backstrom. Other additions who could be key role players include forward Tanner Glass and defensemen Randy Jones and Derek Meech.
Captain Andrew Ladd and All-Star Dustin Byfuglien will once again be expected to lead the team, while young offensive stars Evander Kane and Alexander Burmistrov will look to elevate their game. Winnipeg will have to tear and claw their way to an Eastern Conference playoff spot, but their biggest hurdle may actually be travel schedule. Due to their somewhat abrupt relocation, Winnipeg is still a member of the Southeast Division, meaning they’ll have to log a ton of miles between Winnipeg and the rest of the teams in the division (Washington, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida).
However, while the travel may wear the Jets down away from home, the MTS Centre, the Jets’ home area (and the smallest in the NHL), is expected to contain a raucous atmosphere during every home game, something the Jets could use to their advantage over the course of the season.