The Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks are two teams that find themselves at a crossroad. For Winnipeg, they’ve gone from serious contenders to appearing to plummet off a cliff. In Vancouver they managed to make the playoffs after a four year drought, yet roster turnover leaves questions over whether it was just a fluke. Both these teams provide some interesting comparisons for the Sens as they look to complete their own rebuild.
By Zach Mulder
The 2019-20 season was not one that the Jets are likely to want to remember. Going into the year they were considered cup contenders, only 1 year removed from a conference final appearance. It ended without a playoff berth, losing in the qualifying round to Calgary in four games.
Going into 2021 Jets management were left with a decision. Do they tear it down and rebuild, or do they believe this core is strong enough to win and stick with it. In the end, Winnipeg decided to believe in what they had built, and instead of rebuilding looked to fill the holes in their roster. They traded with Vegas in order to bring back Paul Stastny, who they had previously traded for in 2018 when they made their conference final run. Yet little was done to bolster a defence that was ranked 10th worst in the league at giving up high danger scoring chances, and had not recovered from the loss of Dustin Byfuglien.
For the Jets to make the playoffs Connor Hellebuyck will need to continue being the best goaltender in the NHL. For the Sens to beat them, they will need to put Hellebuyck in positions he can’t do much about. Capitalizing on the high danger chances that Winnipeg gives up is essential, as Hellebuyck is capable of completely shutting the door. Matt Murray and the defence is also critically important. It’s hard to beat goaltending as good as the Jets when your team needs three or four goals to do it.
At the end of the day, the situation in Winnipeg is one that the Sens themselves are quite familiar with. This is only the fourth season since Ottawa made the conference final themselves, and they are in the process of finishing their rebuild. When at the crossroad, Winnipeg chose a different path than the Senators did. Only time will tell if that path was the right one.
The Vancouver Canucks found themselves in an unfamiliar position in 2019-20. After a four year playoff drought the Canucks made it all the way to the second round, where they lost in a very close seven game series against the Golden Knights.
Despite their success last year there are still a lot of questions surrounding Vancouver. They have seen significant pieces of their roster move on in the offseason. Most notably among those are Jacob Markstrom and Chris Tanev, both of whom signed with Calgary as free agents. Markstrom was essential to the Canucks success, providing a stabilizing force in the net that could be counted on consistently. Tanev was also important, providing a veteran voice in a significant defensive role. He was a great fit for the Vancouver roster, providing a counter balance to young offensive talent that they already had.
For Vancouver to prove that last year was not just a one off they’re going to need the big contributions from their new additions. Brayden Holtby was brought in to fill the gap left by Markstrom, while Nate Schmidt was traded for to help solidify the defense. Holtby is a big name who had a lot of success in Washington, the highlight being his cup win in 2018. However Holtby did not look like his usual self last year, particularly the further into the season he got. He ended the year with an .897 save percentage, by far the worst of his career. If he can return to his prior form, then the Canucks are in a very good spot. If what we saw from Holtby last year is the new normal, then it’s going to be a long season for Canucks fans.
Vancouver and Ottawa are actually very similar teams, with the prior being a little further along in their rebuild. Both franchises have young superstar defensemen, complimented by a few young and incredibly promising forwards. Both have a new goalie that has some questions surrounding their abilities to return to form. The biggest difference is that of expectations. Ottawa comes into this season much like last year’s Canucks. Nobody but themselves think much of their team. Vancouver on the other hand now has the added pressure of proving themselves after last year’s surprise success. How the Canucks performed under that pressure could very well be one of the biggest deciders of not only the matchup against the Sens, but their whole season.