Heading into their first game of a season like no other, Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman has high hopes this will be the year the Stanley Cup comes to Manitoba.
In a wide-ranging interview with 680CJOB Wednesday, Chipman said the Jets should be considered a top contender to end up at the top of a tough North Division set up as part of the league’s plan to play through COVID-19.
“I look at those lineups and I look at ours and it’s very conceivable that we could come out of this division,” he said, a day before the Jets open the regular season at home against their Western Conference-rivals, the Calgary Flames.
“(There’s) lots of good teams, teams have made themselves better, for sure, across the country, and it’s going to be very, very competitive.
“But, you know, all things being equal — health and balances and all of those kinds of things — I expect we will be we will be very, very competitive in this group.”
With a 37-28-6 record, the Jets were in the middle of a solid season when the NHL was forced to suspend play due to COVID-19 back in March.
And it was the Flames that extinguished Winnipeg’s hopes for the cup when play resumed, beating the Jets three games to one in last summer’s play-in round in Edmonton to advance to the first round of playoffs.
The NHL kicked off an abbreviated 56-game season Wednesday as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread in North America.
Unlike the league’s restart of the 2019-20 season that saw teams play in isolated environments in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, this time around teams will host games in their own arenas and travel for road games.
All seven Canadian teams will play each other exclusively in the one-time-only North Division.
Chipman says those other teams will be squaring off against a stronger, more mature Winnipeg Jets squad this season.
“I think people have heard the term ‘draft and develop’ ad nauseum for many years (but) I like to think that we’ve done a very good job of that,” he said.
“We showed signs of that a couple of years ago when we got to the conference finals — that was both a high point and a low point for me — you know, to get that far and just be a few games away from playing from the Stanley Cup.
“But the core of that team is still what we have, including our coaching staff, so, you know, I feel like we’ve made quite a bit of progress towards that objective of becoming a Stanley Cup championship team.”
The season will also mark the Jets version 2.0’s 10th back on the ice in Winnipeg, and Chipman says looking back, he’s proud of the strides the team has made towards reaching his ultimate goal.
“From day one, while we were really excited to rejoin the NHL, you know, that that wasn’t our objective. Our objective was ultimately to bring a championship to the city,” Chipman said, adding the team
“It’s very difficult to do. It’s a very difficult league to win in. But I believe that we are considered by our peers to be a team that can that can win a Stanley Cup.”
The puck drops on the Jets’ season opener against the Flames at Bell MTS Place Thursday at 7 p.m. Catch all the action live on 680CJOB starting with pre-game coverage at 5 p.m.
— With files from The Canadian Press