« He has the support of everyone in the room » – Mark Scheifele on Blake Wheeler losing the Winnipeg Jets captaincy

LAS VEGAS – « Couldn’t they have waited a day? » Mark Scheifele joked, breaking the tension. What were the odds he was giving interviews at the NHL Player Media Tour in Vegas just hours after the Winnipeg Jets announced they had fired Blake Wheeler as captain? Scheifele barely had time to process the news.

Earlier Friday, the Jets released a statement revealing that Wheeler, their captain since 2016, had been relieved of his duties.

« It is the determination of the coaching staff that we enter the 2022-23 season without a specific captain, but rather with a group of assistants yet to be determined, » new coach Rick Bowness said in the statement. “Our goal is to broaden the leadership base within our hockey team.

But if Scheifele’s words on Friday were any indication, this « expanded » leadership base had no say in the decision to strip Wheeler of the « C. » Either that or the Jets don’t see Scheifele as part of that leadership base because he was pretty much in the dark about the news.

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« A shock for me, » Scheifele said. « Blake told me before I left just to give my head high. I haven’t had much of a chance to really talk to him and dive into how he feels. First and foremost, I want to be there for him. He’s a guy I learned a lot from and he’ll always be a great leader on our team. Letters really don’t mean anything. He’s a mentor to a lot of our kids and a lot of us. He works so hard and puts his heart on his sleeve.

In a way, a managerial change isn’t a huge surprise given the state of the Jets franchise. Head coach Paul Maurice resigned midway through the 2021-22 season, citing he no longer felt capable of leading the group. The Jets missed the playoffs and hired Bowness to coach this offseason. So a major change in player leadership parallels changes on the coaching side. On the other hand, the Jets, who have largely resisted this offseason, still define themselves as at least a marginal competitor and have chosen to move forward without a defined leader. Why now?

At least from Scheifele’s point of view, the answer does not yet seem clear.

« ‘Bones’ called me this morning — we didn’t really have that conversation about the reason behind it, » Scheifele said. « So I’m excited to have these conversations, to understand from an organizational perspective what the reason is. It’s something that we’ll have to think about and talk about and understand. Right now, it’s just, be there for everyone, taking care of each other. It’s a tough thing for ‘Wheels’ to deal with, but he has the support of everyone in the room.

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« I want to be there for him, to be a friend. He’s still a mentor of mine, a guy I’ve learned a lot from. It gives a lot of other guys an opportunity to step in and be It’s not just going to be one guy or two guys or three guys. improve for our team.

Scheifele and Wheeler each only have two years left on their contracts, so it might not be a coincidence that they are outside the leadership group watching now, unsure of what comes next.

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