Team Breakdown: The Winnipeg Jets are great… and that’s it.

So, I’m not crazy about the L.A. Kings and I don’t think it’s all that difficult to see why. Although they are a consistently great defensive team, they don’t have the firepower that typically wins cups.

Now, what if I told you that there was another Western Conference team that profiles pretty similarly, but just so happens to have slightly more firepower and a world class goalie?

No, I’m not talking about the Vancouver Canucks, they’re way better than the Winnipeg Jets.

If you’re a Jets fan, I would like to formally apologize in advance: I don’t really like your team all that much. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Winnipeg Jets, just not on the same level as the actual top five teams in the west.

With that said, the Jets are still ranked 6th in the west (according to me) and them winning a cup wouldn’t be a shock to most (I think). Any team that can play defence like they do with a world beater in net has a chance to make some noise.

So, let’s anger Jesse Pollock for not putting them at number one and discuss why they’re only ranked 6th of 7 on this list.

Team defence is a big part of their identity

One of the constants for Winnipeg over the last several years was their reputation as a bad defensive team; a reputation that has been squashed this season.

If you put a lot of stock into counting stats then you’d probably assume that the Winnipeg Jets are the NHL’s premier defensive team, which isn’t too far off from reality. They have surrendered the least amount of goals in the entire league this year and have been consistent at preventing scoring chances, ranking 6th in xGA (expected goals against) according to JFreshHockey’s projections.

I won’t lie, I’m a bit shocked to see that they’re this good at preventing chances, but that’s not to discredit the players on their roster.

The Jets’ top pair of Josh Morrissey and Dylan DeMelo has been a good one for a couple of seasons now and this season is no different. Thanks to, their top pair ranks 31st in xGF%, rocking a 52.7% in over 1100 minutes played this season.

Oh, and Morrissey is pretty good at the whole “scoring goals” thing, too.

Their second pair is no slouch, either. Dylan Samberg and Nate Schmidt have only played roughly 530 minutes together, but have a 54.8% expected goal share at 5v5 in those minutes. Admittedly, both pairs have had their totals slip as of late and their bottom pair (and the multiple iterations of them) haven’t been up to snuff in comparison; as Brendan Dillon and Neal Pionk have controlled just 48% of expected goals at 5v5 in 837 minutes played together.

Having a pair with a negative xGF% is rough, but the Jets have clearly been doing just fine with these six on the backend.

Add in some solid two-way forwards to the mix like Vladislav Namestnikov, Gabriel Vilardi, and Alex Iafollo (thanks L.A.), and it makes total sense that Winnipeg has become a rather solid defensive team in 2023-24.

The obvious

Connor Hellebuyck is really, really good at his job. This could also explain why the Jets are absolutely suffocating teams this season.

Despite a rough stretch of form over the last week or so, Hellebuyck has consistently been the best goalie in the NHL this season; pretty much indisputably besides – maybe – Thatcher Demko from October to December.

Hellebuyck’s stats in 2023-24 are, frankly, stupid. He leads all NHL goalies with a .920 SV% (save percentage) and is second in GAA (goals against average) with 2.42, just 0.01 points off from the leader: Sergei Bobrovsky.

The counting stats are impressive enough, but it’s the underlying numbers which really highlight just how dominant Hellebuyck has been this season. Goals saved above expected (GSAx) is a reliable metric to use when analyzing a goalie’s individual performance; essentially tracking how many high danger chances a goalie saves above what is expected. The more high danger shots they save, the more the total increases.

In 53 games, Hellebuyck has a staggering 28.7 GSAx, with Thatcher Demko being second with a 20.4 GSAx. The gap between Hellebuyck and everyone else is quite massive and he should easily win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie.

Hellebuyck has been the league’s best netminder for many, many years and it doesn’t seem like he plans on slowing down any time soon. Having a premier goalie isn’t a necessity for winning a Stanley Cup, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt, I’ll tell you that much.

I am definitely not bitter that he’ll win another Vezina over Demko.

No, not at all.

A coaching decision that holds them back

Here’s where I start to lose interest in the idea that Jets are a top five team in the Western Conference.

Head Coach Rick Bowness has done a great job behind the bench for Winnipeg this season. That’s undeniable. But like any coach, Bowness has made some flat out weird lineup decisions, especially on offence.

Let me tell you a little bit about Nikolaj Ehlers. Drafted in 2014, Ehlers has-

Okay, I’m not about to give you a lecture on the player’s career. All you need to know is that this guy is a STUD. 

The counting stats don’t do Ehlers any favours. He’s dressed in all 72 games for Winnipeg and has 21 goals and 52 points. If you were to only look at the counting stats, you’d probably be under the impression that Ehlers is just a reliable top six scoring winger.

My friend, he is so, so much better than that.

Ehlers has the speed, shot, and playmaking prowess that most players could only dream of having and he uses these tools to create a lot of scoring chances for not only himself, but his teammates. Ehlers has generated 10.4 expected goals at 5v5 this season, good enough for being 5th amongst all Jets skaters. It’s even more impressive when you factor in that Rick Bowness refuses to give Ehlers any ice time.

The Jets offence is pretty solid, all things considered. Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Gabe Vilardi, and newly acquired pieces – Sean Monahan and Tyler Toffoli – are all great players in their own right; but for my money, Ehlers is the best of the bunch.

I could not tell you why Bowness continuously opts to use, basically, any other forward in the top six in big minutes and PP1. Yeah, Ehlers doesn’t even get consistent powerplay time. Perplexing. I don’t know, but when your top line’s numbers consistently improve whenever Ehlers is utilized there, he might just be a top line forward.

Again, I don’t know, I’m not behind an NHL bench, rather, I’m in front of a computer screen; but instead of aimlessly attacking people for supporting Palestine and gloating about how good the Jets are, I opt to complain about my favourite underutilized forward not named Nils Höglander.

So, besides some occasionally questionable coaching decisions, the Winnipeg Jets are no slouch and one of the best teams in the NHL this season; and full credit to them. They have the firepower, defensive acumen, and elite goaltending that can potentially give the city their first ever Stanley Cup.

While they’re only ranked 6th on my list of The Best Teams in the West, I doubt that many would be all that stunned if Connor Hellebuyck leads this team to the promised land come June.

Only time will tell.

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