NHL News

Looking ahead for the Jets: Tough decisions loom on D

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention — either mathematically or by losing in the postseason — we’ll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2018-19, along with three keys to its offseason and a way-too-early prediction for what next season will hold.

What went wrong

The Winnipeg Jets never hit their stride in 2018-19. Yes, they piled up wins, finishing one point behind the Nashville Predators for the top place in the Central Division. However, goaltender Connor Hellebuyck took a step back from last season, the Jets were without two of their top defensemen (Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey) for extended periods, and sniper Patrik Laine slumped (by his standards) after chasing Alex Ovechkin for the goal-scoring title in 2017-18.

Everything that went smoothly in their 2017-18 breakout season seemed to go awry this time. At the 2018 trade deadline, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff added Paul Stastny to cement the No. 2 center role, and the move paid off with a trip to the Western Conference finals. In 2019, Cheveldayoff again addressed that deficiency by trading for Kevin Hayes of the Rangers. It didn’t work out quite as well, with Hayes being demoted off that line during the playoffs.

The Jets blew some late leads in the playoffs, but mainly, ran into one of the league’s hottest second-half teams in the St. Louis Blues, and could not match their intensity — or win at home, despite incredible fan support and the Whiteout crowds. That led to an early exit and plenty of inward reflection; how could a team built to win now not even get past the first round?

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