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Winnipeg Just Keeps Winning, Even If Nobody Notices

Nikolaj Ehlers #27 and goaltender Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets celebrate with teammates following a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at the Canada Life Centre on January 11, 2024 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images

Comrades Anantharaman, Theisen, and Xu have been publicly and proudly besotted by the multiplicative charms of the Vancouver Canucks, and in fairness it takes only a few viewings of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser and Filip Hronek to do that. The Canucks are a more enjoyable evening's watch than any other NHL team.

And yet they might not be the best bet when the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin because the teams that get the parades don't tend to lead with the fun. The stealthy team with the best record, all the same attributes, and the least recognizable profile is 1,400 miles east via the TransCanada Highway.

Boys and girls, we present to you the militantly unfashionable yet crushingly efficient Winnipeg Jets. Yeah, Winnipeg. Home of the windiest intersection in North America (Portage and Main). The first major city to see the Russian missiles when the end times come. The team better noted for dressing room dysfunction than highlights. The team, ultimately, with two fewer appearances in the Cup final than there are versions of themselves.

But also the team that just beat Chicago, 2-1, to win their 16th game in 19 tries, and has the best record in the NHL. The team that lives happily outside anyone's notice until the team bus drives off to the airport after cleaning someone else's plow. They even live outside their own town's notice, as they have yet to sell out their own building despite it being the second-smallest barn in the league. Belief in the Jets runs still, and at a greater depth than most sea creatures. It is, in more ways than one, cold up there.

Yet here they are, the unsexy, low-profile team that never seems to lose, which is always a good idea. After an unsatisfying start Thursday night, they rallied to beat an injury-racked and mostly un-good Blackhawks team with Connor Bedard as the first of what looks like many high draft picks in the coming years, and in doing so set franchise records for consecutive games with a point (14), wins (eight), holding opponents under four goals (31) and under two goals (11).

In other words, they do the thing that is least sexy and yet most often rewarded—they don't let the other team have any of the fun. Which works out well, given that hockey tends to pride itself on not fun.

The Jets get to fly under the radar because the Canucks do the fun stuff (like having four of the top 18 scorers), and Edmonton, which, speaking of fun, has Connor McDavid, has just won nine straight to move up six places in the West, and is just now starting to look like the Cup contender it was predicted to be.

All three are noted for long stretches of underachievement since the start of the 1990s, the Oilers since shortly after they ditched that malcontent Gretzky, and the Canucks despite two Finals appearances, one of which begat a famous city riot.

The Jets' greatest achievement, on the other hand, was in helping propel the Vegas Golden Knights to a Finals appearance despite being an expansion team, and their second was replacing themselves after the first Jets relocated to Arizona to begin a decades-long search for permission to leave again. This, then, is their first real chance to reinvigorate a town disappointed too often by them to bundle up in the snow to go watch them play.

Of course, because it's only January, they may have lost their signature player, veteran Mark Scheifele, to an injury incurred last night, but as there is no more information than Lower body, we'll know more Friday, shove off, there is no reason to think this is more than just a bad idea seeking an MRI. The Jets are, as you arise, the best team in hockey because the results, the metrics and the standings say so. Besides, until the Canucks replace that ridiculous shark logo with the more beloved Johnny Canuck, they shall always be suspect in our eyes (though not those of the comrades), while the Jets are just staying undercover for as long as possible until it comes to prove to a confused world who they currently claim to be.

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