The last time the Winnipeg Jets reached the same altitude they’re flying at now it was in 1975/76 when they were winning their first Avco Cup courtesy of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, and Ulf Nilsson with a lovely supporting cast. Before the World Hockey Association folded in 1979 the Jets would win three Avco Cups out of five finals appearances.
Today the Winnipeg Jets have stealthily (and yet surely) have emerged as winners and potential playoff contenders, combining the fourth best overall offense in the NHL with the fourth best power-play unit in terms of power play goals scored and power-play efficiency.
The man behind this restoration of life and light in the eyes of long suffering Winnipeg fans who have been deprived of hockey glory for nearly four decades is Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Cheveldayoff (who learned his trade as deputy to Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman when they won their first Stanley Cup in 2009/10) took his talents to Manitoba and has rebuilt the once mediocre Jets with shrewd drafting. Starting in 2011 he and his scouting department have drafted young phenoms and (in a low pressure environment with an adoring fan base) allowed them to grow into their hockey uniforms—with dazzling results.
In 2011 forwards Adam Lowry and Mark Scheifele (who is the second best point scorer on the team) were selected. In 2012 blue-liner Jacob Trouba and starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck were selected. In 2013 came Josh Morrissey and Andrew Copp. In 2014 the Jets drafted Nikolaj Ehlers (who has personally won five games for Winnipeg this season with his shooting). In 2015 Winger Kyle Connor was selected but the biggest prize of all (thus far) came in the form of Winger Patrick Laine.
Patrick Laine is the engine that drives the heart of the Winnipeg Jets, especially its power-play where he presently leads the NHL in power-play goals scored (while leading the Jets team in goals scored).
These youngsters combined with veteran holdovers Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler (who ranks among the top five in the NHL in assists and points scored) have pushed Winnipeg to new heights: five points behind Tampa Bay for the President’s Trophy; and three points behind the St. Louis Blues for the Central Division lead and the number one seed in the Western Conference.
There is another intangible that may augur well for Winnipeg. During the past two seasons the Western Conference champion has been a team that has never reached the Stanley Cup finals before and yet have been led by a coach who had led a team to the Stanley Cup finals (albeit for a different team). In 2015/16 the San Jose made their first Stanley Cup finals appearance led by Peter DeBoer who had led the New Jersey Devils to the finals in 2011/12. Last season the Nashville Predators made their Stanley Cup finals debut led by Peter Laviolette who had led the Carolina Hurricanes and the Philadelphia Flyers to the finals in 2005/06 and 2009/10 respectively.
This season there is only one franchise in the Western Conference that fits the criteria that has been followed by the Western Conference champions. One franchise that has never been to the Stanley Cup finals and yet is led by a coach who has coached a different franchise to the finals. And that franchise are the Winnipeg Jets led by Paul Maurice who led the Carolina Hurricanes to their first ever Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2001/02—where they fell to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
If the NHL is going to experience déjà vu thrice over then we should be expecting the Winnipeg Jets to earn a ticket to the big dance against the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins—a matchup eagerly anticipated by the long deprived fans of Winnipeg, Manitoba—and this writer as well.