The Winnipeg Jets headline on March 11, 2020, would have read “Kyle Connor Two Goals Shy of 40.” The headline today, sadly for Connor, would remain the same. Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding closure of the 2019-20 regular NHL season, Connor still sits two goals shy of hitting the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Unfortunately for Connor, the regular season never resumed from its “pause.” The 23-year-old was on pace to score 44 goals in 2019-20, but he’ll need to wait until next season to try for 50 again. Still, 73 points in 71 games before the suspension on March 12 isn’t bad. And, even better for Jet’s fans, it was the third straight season he’d passed the 30-goal mark.
Connor’s Good Season Should Have Been No Surprise
As the title of this post suggests, Connor scored almost 40 goals right under the noses of NHL fans. I’m sure that avid Winnipeg Jets fans knew and kept pace with his scoring, but I don’t that the realization of just how good Connor had become was universal. That leaves – perhaps – Connor as the best NHL hockey player no one really knows about.
Although it was a good season for Connor, it wasn’t what you would call a breakout season. In fact, his strong season really shouldn’t be a surprise anymore. As noted, he’d scored 30 goals three straight seasons and has totaled 103 goals in those seasons. That’s a lot of goals.
And, although no one who knows hockey would deny that the Jets have their share of solid, goal-scoring offensive forwards, it isn’t like the team didn’t have flaws during this past season. Still, Connor scored.
The Jets Were on a Hot Streak Before the Season Was Suspended
The Jets experienced a trying season, especially with a defense that seemed thrown together. Still, the team had its hot moments as well. In fact, just prior to the 2019-20 season being suspended, the Jets had won four straight games and five of its last six games. That hot streak was good enough to leave the team with a 37-28-6 record.
Connor was part of that streak. As he noted in early April as he began to realize that his season and the team might just be finished: “I was really getting in the groove, as well as the whole team.” (from “Jets’ Connor rues lost season, says ‘sky was the limit,’” Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun, 10/04/20).
At that point, he added, “I really hope they do finish the season, but that’s still up in the air. This team, the way it was playing, some of the best hockey we ever have. And it just sucks the way it all unfolded. I think the sky was the limit with this team.”
Can the Jets Continue Their Momentum?
The question remains, with the new postseason plan the NHL has created to complete the playoffs and award a Stanley Cup, can the Jets reclaim the momentum the team ended its regular season with? Right now the team is healthy going into the different Phases the league has created, and being healthy is great. However, momentum can be a fleeting thought.
Connor led the Jets with his 38-goal season and tied Mark Scheifele for the lead in points at 73. Both of the Jets leading scorers played 71 games. Connor might not yet be a household name, but he’s officially a superstar. The Michigan native’s three great seasons with the team should put to bed anyone who believed his re-signing with the team came at too great a cost.
During this past offseason, the Jets re-signed Connor to a seven-year contract worth $50 million ($7.14 million AAV). Connor was looking for a longer length of term and he got it, and the Jets bet wisely on this youngster and won. Unless something unforeseeable happens, Connor – who was a fixture on the Jets top-line with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler in 2019-20 – should again be that same fixture headed into the future. Jet’s fans should get used to a steady of 30-goal seasons from him.
But first, there a 2019-20 postseason to complete. The Jets’ first foe will be the Calgary Flames. It will be interesting to see how Connor and his Jets teammates respond to the time off they’ve been given.