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In Manitoba, Canada hockey is king. The city of Winnipeg and its residents were fortunate enough to have an NHL team in their hometown from 1972 to 1996. While never being able to command notable success (the team only advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs once, only be swept) there was definitely a love from the fan base. Financial woes forced the team to relocate to Phoenix and the citizens of Winnipeg lost their beloved team.
Almost immediately, there was a push for the NHL to bring a team back to Winnipeg. After years of effort, the fans got their wish when the struggling Atlanta Thrashers sold to a Winnipeg-based group and moved back north for the 2011-2012 season. And while the team had been struggling on the ice with only one playoff appearance in 2014 (a sweep by the Anaheim Ducks) prior to this season, Winnipeg established themselves as a potent threat on both ends of the ice on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Needless to say, this city is thrilled to have a team back at home.
Last season the Jets produced a record of 52-20-10 and clinched a playoff berth, coming up 2nd in the Central Division. Head coach Paul Maurice’s message of persistent pressure and consistency resonated with the team as they began to take on a dominant form. Unsatisfied with the outcome this season and how close they came to the Finals, Maurice will be pushing his players even harder this season. There is definitely significant talent to draw from on this roster, starting with team captain Blake Wheeler. The big veteran winger puts forth a solid effort each night for Winnipeg and leads by example. Incentivized by a new five year deal in the offseason worth $41.25 million, expect Wheeler to have a little extra jump in his game this season. Mark Scheifele is a young center whose game is really coming together. Young phenom Patrik Laine is poised to improve even further as he eclipsed his impressive rookie season with even more stellar numbers in his sophomore campaign. Nikolaj Ehlers is right next to him on the stats sheet. Kyle Connor put up great numbers in his first full season in the pros.
The young defense is anchored by the veteran leadership of Dustin Byfuglien. His resume includes a Stanley Cup win as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks so he knows what it will take to bring this team to the highest level. Connor Hellebuyck emerged as the clear starter for Winnipeg last season. Jets fans are excited to watch their young goalie continue to flourish in net. He was just secured with a new contract for six years and worth $37 million.
There is a lot of work to be done if the Jets expect to become Stanley Cup champions, but this squad is up the task. There will be no backing down in Winnipeg this season, and with the crowd on their side, this team has the potential to break through to the final round and bring the Cup back to Canada.
This city has been the home of a great number of star players, including Dale Hawerchuk, Bobby Hull, Phil Housley, Andrew Ladd, Ilya Kovalchuk, Teemu Selanne, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien. Click here to learn more about this great hockey franchise.