The Winnipeg Jets are the surprise success story of the 2023-24 season, but are they for real?
It was Oct. 13 of last year, and everyone was filing their NHL standings projections ahead of puck drop on a new season. But I had a problem. The problem was that the TopDownHockey Wins Above Replacement (WAR for short) model had the Winnipeg Jets pegged to win the Central Division and finish second in the NHL in points with 107.
This model has a decent track record. It was among the best-performing at predicting standings points in the 2021-22 season, and while its outputs were below-average in their predictive value last season, it did correctly identify that the Boston Bruins were a force to be reckoned with as many considered them a fringe playoff team.
The problem this time is that the model's affection for the Jets was so out of whack with the public perception of this team that it strained credulity. I was genuinely concerned that something was wrong.
It's January, the midway point of the season, and as it turns out it's me, not the model, that was wrong about the Jets. And not just me, but everyone. No other model had them above 99 points, nor did the betting odds. Of the over 300 fan predictions I collected before the season, only five had the team above 100 points with none above 102.
Winnipeg is first in the NHL in points percentage as of this writing, second in points, and on pace for 117 standings points. A team that months ago seemed to be on the verge of disintegrating, trading off stars, and transitioning to a new era is suddenly a Stanley Cup contender. Is this for real?
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