The players need a new voice. That was what former head coach Paul Maurice said in his final interview after resigning from the Winnipeg Jets. The team was underperforming in a big way, there had been rumours of locker room dysfunction, and they just hadn’t been able to find the success they had a few seasons ago during a run to the Conference Finals.
Maurice also said that the players needed a new leader. He was likely referring to the coach, but that sentiment has also extended out to the on-ice leadership group as Blake Wheeler was stripped of his captaincy as the team looks to find a new identity. This is a bold change to make but it also signals the dawn of a new era for the Jets as Bowness looks to start with a clean slate.
His goal is to put together a team identity, and culture that will shift away from the rumoured toxicity and bullying under the leadership of Mark Scheifele and Wheeler. A situation that Patrik Laine says played a huge role in pushing him away from the organization.
As far as the on-ice performance goes, the Jets were lacking last season. Scheifele and Wheeler struggled for a major portion of the year and the team just did not have the depth behind them to make up for their lack of production.
This leaves the Jets with two huge questions for the season. First, is the roster depth good enough or improved enough to compete in a very difficult division? And second, is the new voice and leadership overhaul going to change the locker room culture enough to succeed?
Did the Winnipeg Jets Improve Their Depth?
The top-end talent of the Jets’ roster is more than sufficient. Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Scheifele, Wheeler, and Pierre-Luc Dubois are all high-end star players who can drive this team. But if they start slumping, the Jets need the rest of the roster to step up in place.
Unfortunately, the Jets did not significantly improve their roster depth this offseason. Cole Perfetti is likely to see a more regular spot in the lineup, as is Kristian Reichel. But the only significant signing made to bolster the bottom six was Sam Gagner. He is decent, and had 31 points last season, but not a huge improvement.
Additionally, one of the biggest concerns on Winnipeg’s roster in recent seasons is their defense. This is another spot where nothing was done and the only changes look to be the possibility for prospects, like Dylan Samberg and Ville Heinola, to take on bigger roles and more regular spots in the lineup.
In the net, the Jets don’t have to worry as much about depth as they have Connor Hellebuyck. He is a workhorse who is typically healthy through the season. But they did bring in David Rittich in net, who is at least more proven in his role than Eric Comrie, though he did have a good season in relief in 2021-22.
On paper, the organization seems to be banking on last season being an off-year as they did not make many significant improvements to the roster.
Will Rick Bowness Help the Winnipeg Jets Bounce Back?
The other big question about the Winnipeg Jets for 2022-23 is whether or not the new voice and leadership overhaul will help the roster. Bowness comes in after a three-season tenure with the Dallas Stars where he led the team to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in the bubble playoffs of 2019-20.
As a veteran coach, Bowness is prone to some of the more common complaints of older coaches. Using a dump-and-chase style, heavily favouring veteran players, and limiting the freedom of offensive players to focus on using his system instead.
For a team like the Jets with a high-powered top-six and a few offensively inclined up-and-comers at forward and defense, they may appear stifled a bit by their new coach. We sort of saw this lack of offense problem in Dallas these past few seasons as well.
But, Bowness is also a very respected person in and around locker rooms. If the Jets are recovering from some locker room dysfunction and a leadership void, someone like him who can come in, command respect, and get the players united around something might be what saves Winnipeg’s competitive window from being completely wasted.
It gives a chance for a new leader to step up in the locker room, it gives Bowness a chance to see who the players gravitate to and who takes charge in practice and on the bench during games. From there, the new leadership core can be constructed.
Winnipeg Jets 2022-23 Predictions
The team still has a good roster, but they did not do much to plug the holes. Forward depth is still an issue. If the top-six perform as they are expected to, then it will barely be an issue. But one line in a slump or a couple of injuries could completely derail their chances.
Additionally, defensive depth was not addressed. This has been an issue for the past couple of seasons. If Bowness’ style and system stifle offense as many might expect it will, the defensive problems may become more glaring as the season goes on. Hellebuyck can only do so much to cover the skaters’ mistakes.
The Jets should be comfortably competing for a wild card spot in 2022-23. They should be competing for third or fourth in the division, right in with the Predators and Wild as predicted by these offseason Power Rankings from earlier this month.
How do you feel about the Jets’ chances in 2022-23? Drop a comment down below with your predictions!
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