For a Winnipeg Jets fan, there is no place for belief
A strong year for a long-suffering fanbase is accompanied by hope, temptation … and fear
The Winnipeg Jets have a better chance of winning a Stanley Cup right now than they did at any other point in the 24-season history of the National Hockey League in Winnipeg.
This is not an opinion.
It's a statistical probability, according the beautiful minds behind nerdgasmic and wonderful websites such as sportsclubstats.com and moneypuck.com, to name two of the most popular places that combine cold, hard arithmetic and fiery-hot fandom together to create an insatiable addiction.
For the past couple of weeks, Jets fans have been tickled to see moneypuck.com in particular give the Jets a better probability of winning it all this year than any other club in the league.
As of Tuesday, before the Jets lost 6-5 to the Nashville Predators in an intense heartbreaker of a seesaw battle, moneypuck gave Winnipeg a 12.5 per cent chance of winning the Cup, based not on the Jets' top-six NHL record but on a series of metrics that include the number shots they make, the quality of those shots and, advanced stats being what they are, the length of Patrik Laine's billygoat beard.
That 12.5-per-cent chance of a Winnipeg Jets cup victory happens to be better, in this particular ranking, than the odds of a win by the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the bizarre expansion enigma Vegas Golden Knights and the pesky Predators who refused to bare their stomachs not once, but twice on Tuesday night after the Jets went up by two-goal leads.
A probability, however, is only a probability. Long-suffering Winnipeg sports fans, who are better acquainted with futility than most of the sentient beings on this planet, know better than to fantasize about Portage & Main festivities this coming June.
That's because nothing comes easy to a Winnipeg pro-sports franchise that isn't called the Goldeyes and does not play baseball.
As good as the Jets are this season — and they are objectively, undeniably strong, notwithstanding Tuesday night's collapse — only a masochist of a Winnipeg sports fan is going to allow themselves to believe in anything as foolish and sentimental as the phrase "this is our year."
Consider the statistical improbability of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers failing to win a Grey Cup in 27 straight seasons in a Canadian Football League that has only had eight or nine teams throughout most of that horrible, awful stretch.
Recall with horror, if you will, how a 14-4 Bombers squad managed to blow the 2001 Grey Cup against the 8-10 Calgary Stampeders, led by XFL castoff Marcus Crandell at quarterback.
Recoil at the manner in which the Bombers forced their way into the 2007 Grey Cup against the arch-rival Saskatchewan Roughriders, only to lose because one of the younger members of the Kevin Glenn clone army was injured earlier in the playoffs and replaced with the unimmortal Ryan Dinwiddie.
But this is supposed to be about hockey, right? Unluckily for Jets fans, the NHL has been a league of constant sorrow for 24 very-much-interrupted seasons.
The Jets entered the NHL in 1979 after all four former World Hockey Association franchises who joined the league that season had their rosters scavenged like the carcass of a wildebeest tossed into a pit of baboons and jackals.
The fact Vegas was allowed to stripmine the fringes of existing NHL clubs rather than suffer at their hands this year is particularly galling for a Jets fan of a sufficient age.
Those first two NHL seasons were beyond awful for the Jets. When the club finally loaded up on talent in the 1980s, they wilted in the shadow of the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers.
The last time an NHL club named the Winnipeg Jets were as impressive as the one that lights the lamp with regularity this season was in 1984-85, when the club was graced with six 30-goal scorers. But that firepower wasn't enough to defeat the Oilers, who swept the Jets in four straight games in a second-round series where an injured Dale Hawerchuk didn't get a chance to play.
The loss of the original Jets in 1996 made many fans nostalgic for the bad, old days when the Jets would more often lose than win. This absence-inspired fondness for NHL hockey bled over into the first six seasons of these new Jets, who were often just as terrible, but still inspired undying loyalty.
Consider the chants of G-S-T during the 2011-12 season, when paying fans saluted a highly underskilled fourth line simply for showing up on the ice and not fishing the puck from behind goalie Ondrej Pavelec on every single shift.
Consider the place in Winnipeg hockey folklore afforded to bottom-pairing defenceman Adam Pardy, whose primary achievement — after making it to the NHL from Newfoundland — was losing his helmet to a sozzled spectator and getting baptized with beer by another on an otherwise ordinary November night in Chicago.
The Winnipeg Jets have stood for mediocrity for so long, fans can be excused for being too fearful to accept the current club is, well, excellent at hockey.
Every loss suffered by the Jets this season is followed by a sort of panic, as emotionally fragile fans fear the success experienced this season to date is just a mirage.
It's as if one more loss like Tuesday night's 6-5 squeaker will cause goalie Connor Hellebuyck to suddenly become as porous as Pokey Reddick, Patrik Laine to acquire the scoring acumen of James Wright and Mark Scheifele to morph into Mark Kumpel.
Google that last name, if you must. You will regret it.
The point is, Jets fans have suffered so consistently and for so long, they can be forgiven for possessing a vulnerability and insecurity unknown to almost any other form of sports fan.
This is why no sane Jets fan ought to give moneypuck's prognostication more than a passing glance and heed no attention to pundits who ponder the possibility of a third-round series between the unlikely Jets and the improbable Golden Knights.
It is easier to pretend these Jets remain awful and expect little from Little, bupkus from Byfuglien and nothing at all from either Ehlers or Wheeler.
The only statistic that can salve a Winnipeg Jets fan's ailing soul is a favourable final score. This particular fandom can not afford to be tempted by belief.
It's far safer to enjoy each victory and then expunge any sense of expectation from the mind, both to ward against an unpleasant future and to prevent echoes from the past from reverberating endlessly inside our craniums.