ANALYSIS: Recapping the 5 biggest Jets stories of 2021

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A blockbuster trade, a pair of sweeps, an unlikely suspension, a planned overhaul of the blue line and an unexpected coaching change.

If that sounds like a lot of headlines to sort through, you are absolutely right — and you’ve come to the right place.

Welcome to the 2021 year in review for the Winnipeg Jets, who are in the midst of an unscheduled COVID-19 pause but will be back in action on Sunday afternoon against the Vegas Golden Knights.

The storylines have been plentiful this season for the Jets, who currently sit fifth in the Central Division and are tied for 11th in the Western Conference standings, three points below the playoff line with a record of 14-11-5.

To this point of the season, it’s fair to say the Jets have underperformed and they’ve got 52 games remaining to see if they can do something to remedy the situation.

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For now, pull up a chair and let’s take a chronological look at the five biggest stories surrounding the Jets during the calendar year.

Pierre-Luc Dubois in between drills during the first day of Jets’ training camp. Marek Tkach / Global News

Jan. 23 – Patrik Laine and Jack Rolsovic are traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL draft

Trade winds began swirling around Laine leading into training camp, when the agents for the Finnish forward insisted they had not demanded a trade but that a change of scenery might be best for both parties.

Laine showed up, put in the work, acted professionally and made sure his final impression in a Jets jersey was a memorable one, scoring twice — including the overtime winner — and adding an assist against the Calgary Flames in the season opener.

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Read more: ANALYSIS — Laine leaves lasting legacy in Winnipeg

The next day at practice, Laine sustained an injury and never played another game for the Jets.

As for Roslovic, he was also looking for an enhanced role and change of scenery and found one with his hometown team.

For the Jets, this was a significant move as you don’t often see a draft-and-develop franchise move two first-round picks in the same deal.

Coupled with the trade of 2012 first-rounder Jacob Trouba in the summer of 2019 in the deal with the New York Rangers for Neal Pionk and a first-rounder, it meant the Jets had moved three of their nine previous first-round selections.

Winnipeg said goodbye to one of the city’s most celebrated hockey players, Patrik Laine, after he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. LEHTIKUVA / MARKKU ULANDER

But in doing so, acquiring Dubois addressed one of the Jets biggest needs.

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After making deadline deals previously for Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes, the Jets had found a long-term solution down the middle — not a rental player or stop-gap situation.

The transition for Dubois (and Laine, for that matter) with their new teams didn’t exactly go smoothly, for a variety of reasons, but that seems like nothing but a distant memory now.

Dubois has been one of the most consistent performers for the Jets this season, providing a powerful two-way game that’s been highly productive.

Read more: Winnipeg Jet Neal Pionk’s ‘not so excellent’ Christmas adventure

He’s currently second on the team in goals (14) and points (25 in 30 games) and leads the Jets in power-play goals (six).

At 23 years of age, Dubois is only scratching the surface and the two sides will be looking to nail down a long-term contract extension in the new year.

The deal was viewed as franchise-altering for both teams and that’s proven to be accurate.

Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44) and Evgeny Svechnikov (71) battle for the puck with Edmonton Oilers Evan Bouchard (75) during first-period NHL pre-season action in Edmonton on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

May 25 – The Jets secure a series sweep over the Edmonton Oilers

The sight of the Jets facing the Oilers in the Stanley Cup playoffs brought up all kinds of haunting memories for the 1.0 fanbase.

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After battling the Toronto Maple Leafs for top spot in the North Division at one point, things got a bit wobbly down the stretch run for the Jets, who endured a seven-game losing skid.

Not only that, but the Oilers had thoroughly dominated the season series, 7-2, while Connor McDavid piled up nine consecutive multi-point games (seven goals, 22 points) against the Jets.

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But the Jets managed to win a pair of road games to open the series and after falling behind in Game 3, a needless charging major to Josh Archibald turned the complexion of the contest and possibly the series.

The Jets rallied from a three-goal third-period deficit and took a commanding 3-0 series lead when Nikolaj Ehlers scored in overtime.

One night later, it was Kyle Connor who played the role of extra-time hero, providing the series-clincher in triple overtime to push the Jets to the second round for the first time since 2018.

Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele (55) hits Montreal Canadiens’ Jake Evans (71) after he scored an empty-net goal during third-period NHL Stanley Cup hockey action in Winnipeg, Wednesday, June 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

June 7 – The Montreal Canadiens sweep the Jets.

When the Canadiens upset the Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the opening round, it sent shockwaves around the NHL.

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It also left plenty of Jets fans thinking that the road to the third round had probably gotten a little bit easier.

Carey Price and the group of physical D-men that played in front of him had other ideas.

It took less than 30 seconds for the series to take an unexpected turn, as Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo suffered what would prove to be a season-ending groin injury on the opening shift.

DeMelo and Josh Morrissey had done an outstanding job against McDavid and company in the opening round and the Jets simply didn’t have enough depth on the back end to overcome the loss of DeMelo.

Read more: Winnipeg Jets add character, and a character, in defenceman Brenden Dillon

Things went from bad to worse for the Jets with 57 seconds to go in Game 1, as Mark Scheifele travelled the length of the ice on a back-check and drilled Canadiens forward Jake Evans with a punishing hit that left him with a concussion.

Scheifele was given a four-game suspension for charging and the Jets top centre would miss the remainder of the series.

The Jets offence dried up quickly, limited to three goals by Price during the final three games.

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All of that optimism about the potential for a return to the conference final was quickly replaced by disappointment and thoughts of what would go down as a missed opportunity.

For the second time since 2019, the Jets would watch the team that eliminated them reach the Stanley Cup final — though the Canadiens ultimately lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt skating on the first day of Jets’ training camp at the Bell MTS Iceplex. Marek Tkach / Global News

July 26 – The Jets acquire Brenden Dillon from Washington Capitals for a second-round pick in 2022 and a second-round pick in 2023.

July 27 – The Jets acquire Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round pick in 2022.

The injury to DeMelo merely reinforced to Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff that the defence corps needed a significant upgrade, so he addressed the biggest need of the off-season by making two trades in a 24-hour span.

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The deals came after the Jets had navigated the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, losing winger Mason Appleton despite leaving DeMelo unprotected.

Bringing in Dillon and Schmidt checked a lot of boxes for the Jets.

Both players had been used previously in top pairing roles and had ample experience in both the regular season and the playoffs — with Dillon suiting up in the Stanley Cup final with the San Jose Sharks in 2016 and Schmidt getting there with the Golden Knights in 2018.

Not only have Schmidt and Dillon provided stability while logging top-four minutes during the first 30 games of the season, they’ve also raised the joy level around the team with their upbeat personalities.

Paul Maurice unhappy with hits on his Jets players in this 2016 file photo. (Sportsnet). Sportsnet

Dec. 17 – Paul Maurice announces he is resigning as head coach of the Jets and Dave Lowry takes over on an interim basis.

In what can only be described as a stunning development, Maurice ultimately decided he had taken this group as far as he could and he stepped down.

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Very few head coaches make the choice to remove themselves from behind the bench, but as you listened to Maurice go into detail about what must have been a difficult decision, you got the sense he was both at peace with what had transpired and very much in need of a break.

Guiding a team for nearly eight full years would take a toll on anyone, but the circumstances surrounding the pandemic had sapped some of the enjoyment from the experience for Maurice, who finished with a record of 315-223-62 in the regular season and 16-23 in the playoffs as the Jets bench boss.

It’s a results-based business, and Maurice himself said early in his tenure that you are what your record says you are.

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Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice resigns – Dec 17, 2021

When it comes to legacy and things of that nature, history will show that the Jets won three playoff series — two of which came in 2018 and the other last spring in the upset over the Oilers.

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There was one trip to the Western Conference final, where the Jets were eliminated in five games by the expansion Golden Knights.

Going into the 2018 playoffs, the Jets had zero playoff wins as a franchise, dating back to the days as the Atlanta Thrashers.

Not series wins, playoff wins.

After delivering a franchise-best regular season of 52-20-10 (114 points, second in the NHL behind the Nashville Predators) in 2017-18, the Jets would post nine playoff victories before their dream was dashed.

As promising as that stretch was, it represented the high-water mark for the Jets under Maurice.

Close enough to see the Stanley Cup final, but far enough away to realize they had made it just past the midway point to complete the journey.

Maurice showed up on the scene in January of 2014 and while he didn’t push this group to the pinnacle, he gave the organization everything that he had and he left the team in a better position than they were at when he arrived.

Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.

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