The River City Renegade

Will Blake Wheeler want to hang around if the Winnipeg Jets can’t win?

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I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

So, you’re Blake Wheeler, sitting in the Winnipeg Jets changing chamber.

You look around. You see all those freshly scrubbed faces, with less fuzz than a well-used tennis ball. You have arrived at your peak years as a National Hockey League worker. You are at your most productive, on the scoresheet and in team-related intangibles. But you remind yourself that there’ll be 30 candles on your next birthday cake, in August. More than anything, you want to win. Alas, you cannot win, not with team ownership/management operating the NHL’s equivalent of a day-care centre.

Given that you are contracted to wear Jets linen until 2019, you might feel trapped. So, do you get on the blower to your agent and demand he get you the hell out of Dodge? Or do you buy into this youth build and play the part of the loyal foot soldier? After all, you might be wearing the ‘C’ on your Jets jersey next autumn. Unless, of course, the deep-thinkers in the Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment anoint one of the sprigs, such as Mark Scheifele or Jacob Trouba, team captain.

It’s a tough call.

I don’t know Blake Wheeler, but I do know professional athletes, and what they want most is to succeed. That’s why you won’t see players, as a group, tanking. Ownership and management tank (hello Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff), but players do not tank.

So I can’t help but wonder what Wheeler is thinking these days, as opposed to three years ago.

For me it was virtually a no-brainer,” the Jets power forward told news scavengers after putting his signature on a six-year contract in July 2013. “I sat down with my agent in April or May and we had the discussion. I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘This is where I want to be.’ I believe in people like Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group.”

Much of that group in which he expressed faith has been dispatched hither and yon, including his longtime stablemate, captain Andrew Ladd. The next level remains the next level. There have been no great things. And he has already heard his head coach, Paul Maurice, advise one and all that the Jets’ growing pains will not be short-term.

Which means, by the time these young Jets resemble anything close to a competitive outfit, Wheeler will be leaning into his long-in-tooth years.

All of which begs the question: Does he really want to play the role of Daddy Day Care, or does he want an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup?

Interesting read from Paul Wiecek, who uses his column in the Winnipeg Free Press to lament the lack of access scribes are given to pro jocks, notably those in the employ of the Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Among other things, he notes that the Jets have two people who “cover” the club for the team website, thus they don’t require the media to deliver the message. But he describes their dispatches as “mostly pap.” I’ve got news for Wiecek: With the exception of Freep freelancer Scott Campbell, I’ve been reading nothing but “mostly pap” from the beat guys at the Free Press and Winnipeg Sun for the past month. Limited access means there are less boring, cookie-cutter quotes, but it shouldn’t prevent scribes from delivering strong critical analysis and opinion. That’s why blogs are so popular. So boo freaking hoo.

What's not to like about Winnipeg?

What’s not to like about Winnipeg?

Oh, woe is Winnipeg. In a recent Postmedia poll of NHL players, River City was voted the worst and least favorite Canadian burg to visit. Then there was Craig Custance of ESPN advising us of his findings from a poll whereby he asked 10 player agents which locales pop up most frequently on no-trade lists. You guessed it, Good Ol’ Hometown is second, behind only Edmonton. Okay, I get it that no one wants to go to Edmonton, but Winnipeg? I mean, what’s not to like about a town where it’s snowing and the wind chill is minus-20 two weeks into spring?

Why are so many people in Jets Nation convinced there would be serious interest in Michael Hutchinson on the trade market? Other than a couple of terrific months at the beginning of last season, he’s provided no indication that he’s a No. 1 goaltender at the NHL level. He’ll be a career backup at best.

If Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs isn’t the most annoying player in the NHL, will someone please tell me who is. Kadri is the new Rat. He’s no Ken Linseman, but he’s out-ratting Brad Marchand, who apparently decided to spend most of his time scoring goals for the Boston Bruins rather than annoying foes this season.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

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4 thoughts on “Will Blake Wheeler want to hang around if the Winnipeg Jets can’t win?

  1. A good read as usual, thanks. Re: Wheeler, he’ll be at an age when his current contract expires that I’m not sure he’ll have much say in the decision. NHL teams don’t usually beat down the door of 33-year-olds.

    I agree with you about the lack of objective analysis in the FP about the Jets. You have 50% of NHL teams making the playoffs every year. And you have a Jets’ GM who was hired 5 years ago to build the team into a playoff contender and he has one playoff appearance in 5 years. That was by the skin of his teeth and the Jets didn’t win a single playoff game. This year, they’re in the bottom 5 teams in the NHL. It’s tough to believe there aren’t media types suggesting the team needs to go in another direction because the guy making the personnel decisions isn’t getting it done.

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    • I just wonder if Wheeler will ask his way out if it’s this bad again next season. I also have a hunch they’re going to peg one of the young guys as captain.

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      • I should have read that section far, far more closely. Sorry about that. As you say, it makes sense that any athlete would like to experience the excitement of a Stanley Cup run and a possible ring. And you get the definite sense that’s not going to happen in Winnipeg in the near future. It’s a good question as to what he’s thinking.

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  2. I agree about the captaincy … who the brain trust name as captain will tell an awfully big story … would Wheeler even consider turning down the captaincy? I think being named captain and this being HIS team might be enough to stroke his ego and keep him here for the “rebuild”. Interesting times ahead for sure.

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