WINNIPEG, MB -- Riding a six-game winning streak -- the longest in the 2.0 era -- the Winnipeg Jets entered Saturday's tilt with the Nashville Predators with a decent amount of optimism for what lay ahead, and had another display Saturday as they beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 with a last-minute goal from Blake Wheeler.
While the Jets overall were fairly flat after the first period in Saturday's action, there was a good sign of what could potentially be in place next year as Kyle Connor got his second goal of the season off a give-and-go involving Adam Lowry. Certainly, these two will be a good pairing in the future. Wheeler's goal, a feed from Mark Scheifele, showed once again that there is great stability up front.
The game certainly had an air of celebration such as in spots like these, but also of finality, not just for the 2016-17 season, but for the Jets locker room as it currently stands. There were a few players who likely have played their final games in Winnipeg. Among them are Chris Thorburn and scratch Ondrej Pavelec who go into free agency and likely will not be re-signed, and Mathieu Perreault who has long been speculated as the Las Vegas Golden Knights pick from the Winnipeg squad.
There are also some new faces who will command attention as the Jets go into the offseason once again without a playoff appearance, the fifth time in six years. As has been the case in the past, a group of young prospects have been getting their first looks over this final stretch, like Nelson Nogier, Jack Roslovic and Eric Comrie. Also up with the club after spending much of the season in the AHL are Julian Melchiori and Connor, two players expected to be big parts of the team going forward.
Overall this has been a much more productive team in 2016-17. Two Jets hit the 30-goal plateau, five had 20 goals, four had at least 60 points. Patrik Laine, the Jets Three-Stars Award winner, had a Calder-worthy season and gave fans an incredible superstar to watch, hopefully for years to come.
But outside the celebration notes, there are plenty of question marks going into the offseason. Talks with Jacob Trouba on a long-term contract, after he more than proved worthy of everything he said he could be - becomes priority number one. The futures of Toby Enstrom and Tyler Myers (also high on prospective Golden Knights lists) are very much in doubt. With a fairly small supply of rearguards in the system, there is a definite feeling that now is the time to move a couple prospects from the forward ranks, especially with a crammed front line and zero room on the top three lines, particularly if Roslovic and/or Connor make the team next year.
There is a sense that there needs to be change this off season. Fans are growing impatient. If the luster of the team's return was waning at season's start, it's completely gone now.
Over the next couple months there will only be rumours, but there should be some truth behind that word. If another postseason passes without major trades or free agent signings, and more importantly if the Jets start 2017-18 slow, change won't happen in the locker room, but behind the bench and in the offices.
Until then, let the speculation begin.
Jon Waldman is the Winnipeg Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.