The 2011-12 season has been a difficult one for the NHL. It started last summer with the sudden deaths of a trio of former enforcers and continued through the year with the concussion epidemic. The future of several franchises and the unknown future of the collective bargaining agreement have dominated headlines off the ice.
But for all the bad, there have been some great stories throughout the league, and none better than that of the Winnipeg Jets.
The new version of the Jets find itself just two points behind the Florida Panthers for the Southeast Division lead. If someone said they saw this happening in September, they’d be lying. But that’s the beauty of sports.
The Jets have had great success at home, going 20-10-4 at the MTS Centre, seventh best in the NHL. They’ve received contributions throughout the lineup, with seven players with 30-plus points, including three with over 40 points. Little known Blake Wheeler leads the team with 53 points.
The emergence of young stars like Evander Kane — who has already set new career highs in goals and points in just 58 games — and the leadership of Dustin Byfuglien and captain Andrew Ladd have led this orphan-like organization that was uprooted from Atlanta into a team high seeds may not want to meet in the first round.
For the fans of the hockey rabid city of capital city of Manitoba, talk of a playoff berth at the beginning of March is gravy. Many believed the first year or two back in Winnipeg would be a honeymoon period of sorts for the organization.
Although the team never embraced that theory, it showed greatly during the team’s season opener — a drubbing at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens — when the hometown fans gave their adopted boys a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
The success of the team shows how important having the support of fans has on a team’s psyche. This team, for the most part, is the same lineup that finished 13 points out of a playoff spot 11 months ago in Atlanta. Playing before 15,000 people is a lot easier than 8,000 and change.
The story and success of this team has already been written over the first five months of the regular season. What happens over the final five weeks is icing on the cake for a fanbase that has been waiting to bust out their white towels at an NHL game in mid-April for the last 15 years.
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