Apr 7, 2014; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Minnesota Wild forward Charlie Coyle (3) celebrates his goal with teammates against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

A Wild Fan's Perspective on the Winnipeg Jets

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With just over a month before the Preseason Opener against the Winnipeg Jets, we take a closer look at the rivalry with our neighbors to the North.

When the Atlanta Thrashers moved and became the Winnipeg Jets at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, the NHL filled a need in a hockey hungry market that had been without an NHL team since 1996. In mere minutes, season ticket packages for the inaugural season of the Jets sold out. Now entering their fourth season, the Jets have established themselves as a heated rival of the Wild with a ravenous fan base that will travel to great lengths to support their team. We’re thrilled to see divisional rivalries make their way to St. Paul. This week, we take a closer look at our division rival and break down last season

Nov 17, 2013; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Winnipeg Jets cheer during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Jets 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Winnipeg’s 2013-2014 recap:

Posting a record of 37-35-10 during the 2013-2014 season, the Jets failed to make the playoffs, 5 points out of the final wild card spot. More concerning, the Jets had an overall goal differential of -10. Of their 37 wins, only 29 came in regulation or overtime.

After five straight losses and a 19-23-5 record, the Jets relieved head coach Claude Noel in early January and hired Paul Maurice. With only 35 games remaining and the Jets firmly seated last among Central Division teams, Maurice performed admirably, guiding the jets to an 18-12-5 record, good enough for 11th in the grueling western conference.

27-year-old Minnesota native and 2nd line winger Blake Wheeler led the Jets in points last season with 69  (28-41.) Disagreements between Claude Noel and promising 23-year-old forward Evander Kane led to Kane being scratched throughout the season, posting only 41 points (19-22) in 62 games. By comparison, Kane had 33 points (17-16) in 48 games of the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season.

Dec 27, 2013; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (31), defenseman Dustin Byfuglien (33) and forward Chris Thorburn (22) react after being scored on by Minnesota Wild forward Dany Heatley (not shown) during the first period at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Fred Greenslade-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has yet to prove himself with the Jets, with a shaky 22-26-7 record through the season with a 0.901 save percentage and 3.01 GAA. By comparison, journeyman goaltender and Jets backup Al Montoya posted an admirable 13-8-3 with with a 0.920 save percentage and a 2.30 GAA. Montoya has since departed for the Florida Panthers.

By the Numbers: 2013-2014 season:

Team Record

Team
Wins
Losses
OT losses
Points
Minnesota Wild43271298
Winnipeg Jets37351084

Team Points Leader

Player
Goals
Assists
Total Points
Jason Pominville
Minnesota Wild
303060
Blake Wheeler
Winnipeg Jets
284169

Wild versus Jets 2013-2014 recap:

The Wild finished the season with a 4-1-0 record over the Jets with one win coming in the shootout. The Wild’s only loss to the Jets came in Winnipeg on December 27th, 2013 with a final score of 6-4. Despite holding a winning record, each game was a hard-fought battle for the Wild, with all but one game being decided by a lone goal, including the final game of the Wild/ Jets season series which was decided in a shootout. Mikko Koivu led all Wild players with 5 points (3-2) and Blake Wheeler led all Jets with 3 (2-1)

Jets 2014 Offseason:

In addition to signing Paul Maurice to a four-year coaching contract, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has remained fairly quiet during the offseason.

While re-signing many players with their AHL affiliate the St. John’s Ice Caps, the Jets re-signed veteran forwards Chris Thorburn, Matt Halischuk, and Michael Frolik as well as defenseman Keaton Ellerby. Goaltender Michael Hutchinson was resigned, making him the only goalie besides Pavelec to earn an NHL level contract.

During Free Agency, the Jets added forwards T.J. Galiardi, Mathieu Perreault, and defenceman Julien Brouilette.

Perreault adds a much-needed center given the departure of Olli Jokinen, who will join the Nashville Predators this fall.

Biggest question for the Jets going forward:

Although it seems the Wild’s goaltending situation is shaky at best, the Jets seem to be even more uncertain. Ondrej Pavelec had a poor year for the 2013-2014 season. Al Montoya has signed with the Florida Panthers. Michael Hutchinson, who looks promising from his time in the ECHL and AHL, has only three games of NHL experience and looks to be the number two goalie come September. Illya Bryzgalov remains available, although I think many of us would rather see him in a Wild sweater.

Biggest question for Wild going forward:

We’ve covered the goalie situation frequently on GPW. Instead,  I’m going to look at the power play woes.  The Wild finished 24th overall in Goals For with 2.4 and 16th on the power play with a 17.9% conversion rate. Despite earning a postseason berth in 2013–14 neither of these are sustainable for long-term playoff hopes. The Wild seemed to address this by adding Thomas Vanek during the off-season; however we do need to see more from Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle,and Mikael Granlund.

Jets-Wild 2014-2015 season preview:

The Wild start the preseason at the always sold out MTS Centre in Winnipeg on September 22nd before traveling to Pittsburgh and returning to St. Paul on September 27th. Tickets for the first preseason game can be found HERE.

The Wild will face the Jets 5 more times during the regular season. The Jets and their always energetic fans  will visit St. Paul on November 16th, 2014;  December 27th, 2014; and April 6th, 2015.

The Wild will take a trip to Winnipeg on December 29th, 2014; and February 10th, 2015.

Pro predictions and players to watch:

Entering his sophomore season, Minnesota native and 2012 draft pick Jacob Trouba is always fun to watch for his defensive prowess and hard-hitting style for the Jets.

On the other side of the blue paint, new Wild  d-man Christian Folin seems to be the consensus pick for the 6th defenceman on the Wild. With his size and shot, expect to see the Wild take a hard look at him during the preseason.

Plan on seeing more hard-fought battles between the Wild and Jets for years to come. Personally, I’d love to see the Jets and their incredible fans flood Target Field when the Wild are finally granted a long-awaited outdoor game

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