The Winnipeg Jets failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Winnipeg (35-31-11) was eliminated from contention when the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday.
The Jets, who hadn’t missed the playoffs since 2016-17, were swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round last season after losing their first series in each of the previous two seasons. In 2018, they advanced to the Western Conference Final before being eliminated in five games by the Golden Knights.
“It’s the best part of the year to be a hockey player, except for if you’re in our shoes, then it’s the worst,” captain Blake Wheeler said. “It’s really disappointing. It’s hard to put into words the feeling, what it feels like. It just feels like we’re kind of back to square one. (Being) built so long to get to championship level and then sitting here is pretty deflating.
“It’s been my job to build the culture here and I have taken a lot of pride in that over the years. I certainly look in the mirror on that one and where we’ve gotten to and the team that we were and the team that we are now. I don’t hide from that at all. I certainly take responsibility for where this team sits. I’m hopeful we have a locker room full of people doing the same thing, but I’m trying to build this into something we can be proud of and something that can be at championship level every year. When you fall short of that, you’ve got to take responsibility for it.”
Here is a look at what happened in the 2021-22 season for the Jets and why things could be better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Paul StastnyF; Zach SanfordF; Adam BrooksF
Potential restricted free agents: Pierre-Luc DuboisF; Mason AppletonF; Evgeny SvechnikovF; Jansen HarkinsF; Eric ComrieG
Potential 2022 Draft Picks: Seven
What went wrong
Coaching changes: Paul Maurice was in his ninth season with Winnipeg before unexpectedly resigning on Dec. 17, saying the team needed a “new voice” in order to take the next step. The Jets started the season 9-3-3 before going 4-7-2 in the 13 games prior to Maurice’s decision. Assistant Dave Lowry took over, but even with a clear emphasis on the need for better defense, the Jets never found any traction the rest of the season. In the 28 games under Mauritius, Winnipeg allowed 2.75 goals per game (13th in the NHL). In its 49 games since, Winnipeg is 22-21-6 and has allowed 3.41 goals per game (tied for 21st).
No substantial winning streaks: The Jets won four straight games from Oct. 21-28, but that would turn out to be their longest streak of the season. Although they only lost four consecutive games in regulation once (from Nov. 19-26), the season was a frustrating brand of inconsistency and mixed results.
Penalty kill: Winnipeg is 30th in the NHL on the penalty kill (74.3 percent) and has allowed 56 power-play goals, tied for the fourth-most in the NHL. The Jets struggled on the penalty kill from the start of the season, allowing 15 goals in their first 15 games (64.3 percent), and never really improved to the level needed to maintain momentum and build a winning streak.
Reasons for optimism
New chemistry: Winnipeg’s top six forwards remain elite, and the emerging chemistry between center Pierre-Luc Dubois and left wing Kyle Connor will be an asset in the future. Connor has had a career-best season offensively, leading the team in goals (43), assists (44) and points (87) in 74 games. Dubois has had a nice bounce-back season after getting 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 41 games with the Jets following the trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. Dubois has made a consistent impact through his physical play and has created quality scoring chances with 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 76 games, five shy of his NHL career high he set with the Blue Jackets in 2018-19.
Josh Morrissey: Morrissey rebounded from a tough 2020-21 season to establish himself as Winnipeg’s No. 1 defenseman and an impact player in all-situations. The 27-year-old leads the Jets in average ice time (23:43, a career high) and has also set career highs in goals (12) and points (34) in 74 games.
Connor Hellebuyck: When the Jets look to sort out their path forward in the offseason, they won’t have to spend much time worrying about their goaltending. Hellebuyck was asked to do too much this season, playing in 64 games for a team that has allowed 33.1 shots per game, ninth most in the NHL (none of the top 11 teams in that category will qualify for the playoffs). Still, the 28-year-old, who won the Vezina Trophy voted as the NHL’s best goalie in 2019-20, has gone 27-27-10 with a 3.03 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and four shutouts. In the past five seasons, Hellebuyck has made 291 starts, the most in the NHL, and has 160 wins, second behind Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning (184).