There's no question 2020 has been a raging Dumpster fire. But if you're a glass-half-full kind of person, there's plenty of reasons for optimism as we get ready to say farewell to a mostly forgettable year and flip the calendar to what we all hope will be a fresh start.
If you're looking for some positivity from a sports perspective, the NHL is on the verge of a post-holiday return in the form of a shiny new season. And while it's going to look and feel different than usual, it will still be the same great game we know and love.
So what does that mean for the Winnipeg Jets?
There's no question the team has its share of flaws, including significant question marks on the blue line. And yes, in a predictions column from earlier this week, I have the Jets in a tough battle for a playoff spot against stiff competition here in the Great White North. But whether it's all the tidings of comfort and joy in the air right now, or perhaps just the egg nog talking, I'm here to tell you it's not all gloom and doom for the local outfit. Far from it, in fact.
In the spirit of the upcoming 10th season back in Winnipeg, here's an early Christmas gift from me in the form of 10 reasons you should be excited about the Jets.
1. OH CANADA! How much fun is it going to be watching them battle the likes of Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Elias Pettersson, Carey Price, Brady Tkachuk and Matthew Tkachuk on a nightly basis, with national bragging rights at stake? You'll never convince me that an all-Canadian division, for one year only, isn't terrific for the sport.
2. IN "HELLY" THEY TRUST: There's only one team that can lay claim to having the best goaltender in the league. And that team happens to play inside Bell MTS Place. Connor Hellebuyck, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, gives the Jets more than a fighting chance every time he takes the net. It will be interesting to see how the team handles rest for their workhorse, especially with plenty of back-to-back games expected in the condensed schedule. You know Hellebuyck will want to play as much as possible.
3. MARK SCHEIFELE'S LEG: The team's No. 1 centre suffered a scary leg/knee injury just moments into the return to play last summer following a questionable hit from Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk. But he's been skating for weeks and has declared himself 100 per cent healthy, which should have the locals breathing easier and feeling good considering Scheifele drives the offensive bus.
4. PATRIK LAINE IS STILL HERE: The Jets are a more dangerous squad with the 22-year-old Finnish winger with 138 career goals in the lineup. Sure, the trade winds have been blowing strong during the off-season. But assuming general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff doesn't pull the trigger on a blockbuster, Laine is a significant weapon for the team. Laine should be highly motivated, especially since he's a restricted free agent next summer who will want to prove he's worth a big-money extension, whether that's from Winnipeg or another. If he can build off the overall improvements we saw in his game last season, then look out.
5. "STAS" IS BACK: Paul Stastny will forever be linked to the best season in franchise history, and it will be fun to see if the sequel can be anywhere as good as the original. The centre should fit right in on the second line and give the Jets another wrinkle on a power play that was stagnant at times last season. Throw in his veteran leadership and playing for a new contract (he's a pending unrestricted free agent), and there's plenty to like about the deal that brought him back to town.
6. KYLE CONNOR'S HANDS: He was the hottest goal scorer in the NHL when the regular season was paused in March. If he can quickly regain that form, there's no reason he can't challenge for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, awarded annually to the league's top sniper. One Vegas sportsbook that sends me frequent emails about their latest odds has Connor at 10/1 to take home the hardware. Only five skaters — Alex Ovechkin, Leon Draisaitl, Matthews, McDavid and David Pastrnak are ahead of him. That's elite company.
7. THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: Ville Heinola should be given every chance to crack the roster after making a terrific first impression last season. Same with rookie defenceman Dylan Samberg, coming off three strong years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. And 10th-overall pick Cole Perfetti will come to camp with plenty of momentum after skating with Team Canada at the world junior championship, looking to force his way into the lineup. These next Jets could make an impact sooner than later.
8. A FULL SEASON OF DYLAN DEMELO: Winnipeg's blue line was a hot mess for much of last season, but things really settled down when Dylan DeMelo came over in a late-February trade with Ottawa. After signing a four-year contract extension this fall, the steady, reliable DeMelo will now have a full season to presumably skate on the top pairing with Josh Morrissey, which also allows other pieces to fall back into place. (Neal Pionk and Tucker Poolman, for example, in more sheltered roles).
9. FLY, NIKOLAJ, FLY: The Jets have one of the most exciting players in the game in Nikolaj Ehlers, and the Danish winger aptly nicknamed "Fly" finally shed the post-season monkey off his back with a breakout series against the Flames. He was on pace for career offensive highs last season prior to the pause, and there's still room for improvement at the age of 24. Along with the likes of Scheifele, Laine, Connor, Stastny and captain Blake Wheeler, he gives the Jets as deep a top six forward group as any NHL club.
10. THE CONTINUED GROWTH OF ANDREW COPP: The 26-year-old Michigan product really came into his own last season, showing his offensive upside and versatility while playing centre and wing, moving up and down the lineup and taking on additional leadership responsibilities. With one year left on his current deal, Scheifele's best buddy can take another big step in his development and cement his role as part of the team's existing core for years to come.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.