WINNIPEG, MB -- The countdown for the Winnipeg Jets is officially over as the team has been officially eliminated from the Western Conference playoff race.
The postseason has been out of reach for quite some time in Winnipeg and one can argue that it's been months since there was any sort of hope that postseason hockey would come back to Winnipeg; but the growth of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, as well as little slippage in the standing of the Central Division juggernauts left little room for Winnipeg to have a chance at the postseason.
Perhaps best emblematic of how this season has gone for the Jets was Nic Petan's feelings on 2016-17 for himself. The second year pro has played 50 games with the Jets prior to Tuesday's action against the New Jersey Devils, but also spent some time down in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose.
On March 18, Petan reflected: "Everyone knows how my year's going. I'm learning. It's a process. I don't see myself playing a fourth-line role my whole career."
Much the same as Petan, the Jets have certainly learned a lot this year. Their young players -- namely Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers -- greatly improved from last season and Jacob Trouba, after sitting out the first part of the campaign, has shown great maturity and is poised to now be a true leader for the Jets, assuming he sticks around.
On top of this, Petan, like the Jets, had some matters to deal with of simply being a victim of circumstance. Petan's time with the Moose wasn't entirely his fault -- it was a crowded scene in the Jets forward ranks this season. Similarly, the Jets were victimized by a tight first half of the season and also seeing would-be top producers like Bryan Little and Tyler Myers down for extended periods.
One could also attribute the goaltending woes in part to the upcoming expansion draft, where Michael Hutchinson was signed, in the eyes of many, for the sole purpose of being a body to be exposed in the draft to ensure that Connor Hellebuyck would be protected.
Overall, there are positives to be taken, just as Petan has seen in his season; but there are still setbacks that need to be addressed immediately, namely the play of veterans.
Dustin Byfuglien has fared pretty well this year, but his leadership game seemed to be lacking. Others, like Toby Enstrom, fizzled, while the likes of Mark Stuart and Ondrej Pavelec are likely playing their final games in Jets uniforms between now and Game 82.
Like Petan, the Jets don't want to be considered a lower-rank entity anymore. Fourth line players and non-playoff teams share a key similarity -- both spend less time on the ice than they want to. If the Jets want to get into the postseason next year, the time for development is now. Take advantage of the next few games to audition the likes of Jack Roslovic and see where players like Kyle Connor are now. Then, it's time to get down to serious business and be prepared for a summer of change.
This summer, Nic Petan will work on his game and look at September with a lot of hope for getting a better position for 2017-18, and the Jets will do the same -- but in both cases, it will take a lot of work to advance to the next level.
Jon Waldman is the Winnipeg Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.