The curious case of the Jets and the expectations for next season

Where exactly should we place expectations on the Winnipeg Jets for next season?

If there are no expectations, there can be no disappointment

Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, right, celebrates his game-tying goal with centre Mark Scheifele against the Kings during the third period on Saturday night in Los Angeles. Wheeler ended with a team-high 78 points and Scheifele finished with a team-high 29 goals. (Danny Moloshok/Associated Press)

The season is over. Finally. Take a moment to reflect.

OK, that's long enough. Let's get down to business. Where exactly should we place expectations on the Winnipeg Jets for next season?

This is a difficult path to navigate after the season just turned in. Surely the Jets will want to throw a little more urgency into the process and show some level of attention toward improving the roster for next year, right?

That's probably more of a wish than a reality.

Winnipeg enjoyed a 4-3 shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, finalizing its 2015-16 season record at 35-39-8.

That's good for last in the Central Division, 11th in the Western Conference and 25th overall in the league standings. Blake Wheeler ended with a team-high 78 points and Mark Scheifele finished with a team-high 29 goals.

Another notable performance: last month's comments from head coach Paul Maurice about the Jets being just as young (or even younger) next year. That's called managing expectations, and it's something the club has done quite well since arriving five seasons ago.

The future

To place an expectation on something is to project anticipation or hope for it to occur in the future. We expect warmer weather to arrive in Winnipeg later in April. Take note of the promise and the passage of time in that sentence. Summer is right around the corner.

What's funny about the Jets and expectations is that any expectations put on the team have always been firmly rooted in the future — positioned there through a narcolepsy-inducing communiqué delivered by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and members of the organization, stating that things will improve soon.

Funny how the message this year was the same message five years ago.

When the NHL returned in 2011, the prevailing sentiment was that Cheveldayoff needed time to not only evaluate the components of the Atlanta Thrashers but to restock the organization with young players. The cupboards were bare, they said. It's going to take a couple years. Curb your expectations on success and channel them into an expectation into the future.

Here we are five years later with just one playoff appearance on the books and some starting to question some of the roster decisions. Between complimenting Cheveldayoff for hitting on his first round draft picks and wondering why players like Mark Stuart and Ondrej Pavelec are still collecting paycheques, followers of the club have spent a good chunk of this season killing time during games by fooling around with an online draft simulator.

That was a highlight, too. 

At some point, one hopes, delayed expectations will come home to roost. One day, fans (and media) are going to stop accepting pleasantries about drafting and developing and start asking some questions about winning and success. As mentioned in this space on Friday, the outside pressure will eventually arrive.

Just don't expect that anytime soon. What's another five years?

If Winnipeg is going to be just as young (or younger) next winter, there's a very good chance they will exist around the post-season line while the upperclassmen in the Central (Chicago, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville) duke it out for the top three spots in the division.

As it stands right now, Winnipeg has a starting goaltender who appears cemented into the concrete foundation at MTS Centre; a pretty decent defence that struggles with defensive responsibility at times, two pretty good forward lines and a bunch of young "maybes" and veteran "maybe-nots," who have proven to be just as fickle as the team through this sizeable stretch of garbage time.

Does anyone see the Jets, barring a major change or three this summer, qualifying as a playoff club next year? The general expectation out there would probably straddle the line between "probably not" and "doubtful."

Maybe this is how the organization wants it. Maybe they want the expectations to be so low, so non-existent, that any climb in the standings or playoff chase excitement will be enough to satisfy the masses. Look, this could very well be the case again next season.

If there are no expectations, there can be no disappointment.


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