The Winnipeg Jets had their end-of-season media availability Wednesday, two days after being summarily and soundly swept in the second round by the Montreal Canadiens.
There was plenty to take away from the Q&A with the players, and here just some of the highlights.
Ehlers Had Labrum Tear, Rib Cartilage Fracture
It’s not uncommon after a season is over to have players finally disclose injuries that were secretly ailing them. Ehlers revealed that he was playing through a posterior labrum tear in his shoulder for most of the year, and that the injury that kept him out of the final 11 regular-season and first two playoff games was a first-rib cartilage fracture.
Despite the injuries, Ehlers was the Jets’ best forward this season, firing 21 goals and adding 25 assists for 46 points in 47 games.
Dubois Wasn’t Playing Through Injury as Many Speculated, Blames Himself for Poor Play
Pierre-Luc Dubois was so ineffective over the past two months that many assumed he must have been playing hurt.
The 22-year-old acquired in January in exchange for Patrik Laine threw cold water on the rumours, stating: “No, I’m not hurt. I mean, I’m as hurt as anybody. Bruises and scratches and stuff like that — nothing major that affected my game.”
Dubois finished the season on a 24-game goalless streak and was terribly inconsistent in 41 games after coming over from the Columbus Blue Jackets, recording 8 goals and 12 assists. He was given a huge chance to step up and show off his play-driving skill in the second round after Mark Scheifele was suspended in Game 1, but was completely invisible.
“The only person to blame is me,” Dubois said. He said that while he didn’t play nearly as well as he should have or knows he can, one disappointing year does not define him and he still has confidence in himself.
“It wasn’t easy. When you get to a new team, you want to fit in, you want it to be the perfect fit,” he admitted. “For me, it was kind of hard finding what that was. I had a hard time trying to define what I can do. At the end of the day it’s our job to be the best players we can be and help our team win… at the end of the day you only have yourself to blame.”
Stastny Open to Re-Signing With Jets
Paul Stastny said he was open to returning to Winnipeg next season.
The 35-year-old veteran and pending unrestricted free agent recorded 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in his second stint with the club and served them well as a versatile and low-maintenance player, as well as a calming presence.
“I think, for me, whatever happens, I’ll probably take my time away with it. I’m older, options are probably more limited, but probably have an idea of what’s best for me, what’s best for my family,” he said.
“I have nothing but good things to say here, I know the future has always been bright, it continues to be bright, there’s always going to be a chance here, I think that’s a really important piece in picking a team you want to play at,” he continued.
If the Jets were to retain Stastny, it would have to be for far less than his current $6.5 million cap hit, which the Jets inherited when they acquired him from the Vegas Golden Knights prior to the season.
Jets’ RFAs at Different Points in Thought Processes
Andrew Copp has done a lot of thinking about his RFA status this summer.
He said nothing is off the table at this point regarding contract talks, including a long-term extension. He also expressed that he wants to know what the Jets’ plan is going forward, and for him to be invested in their direction makes sense given he’s become a core member who is relied on in key situations.
A defensive specialist, Copp had a breakout season offensively, setting new career-highs in goals (15) and points (39) and often playing on the top six. He is set for a raise over his current $2.28 million AAV.
He took the team to arbitration in 2019 and signed a reasonable two-year deal when the Jets had a cap crunch, but said he didn’t believe the situation will impact the process this time around.
Meanwhile, another pending RFA in Neal Pionk said he hasn’t thought too much about his RFA status at all as he is still “decompressing” from the season but plans to talk to his agent in the coming days. Those conversations will likely involve discussions of a raise as well, as the defenseman had a second-straight strong season since being acquired in the Jacob Trouba trade.
The 25-year-old recorded three goals and 29 assists for 32 points and skated an average of 21:58, mostly alongside fellow Minnesotan Derek Forbort.
Scheifele Still Seething About Suspension
Mark Scheifele hasn’t changed his tune over the strict four-game ban he was assessed for charging Jake Evans in Game 1 against the Canadiens. He was spitting fire Wednesday.
“I still believe it was excessive,” he said. “They knocked me out of the series. I don’t even a the chance to play with my teammates and battle with my teammates in the series… I’m going to stop talking before I get fined or something like that, so I’ll leave it as it is.” He went on to call it “crushing” that his season was ended by supplemental discipline.
“I thought I was going to be tried to be shut down by Phillip Danault,” he said. “And it was Department of Player Safety that shut me down. That definitely sucks.”
Indeed, the NHL DoPS came down hard on Scheifele — despite him never being suspended before in a near-600 game NHL career — calling his hit “high and predatory.” The decision was inconsistent with other recent suspensions, which saw repeat offenders getting off lightly for plays that were just as bad, if not worse.
Because the Jets were swept, Scheifele will have to serve the final game of his suspension during the first regular season game of 2021-22.
DeMelo Hoping to Stay Put
Dylan DeMelo said he signed with the Jets for four years and wants to be in Winnipeg for the entire contract “and maybe beyond.”
The Jets will only protect three defensemen from the Seattle Kraken for this summer’s Expansion Draft, with two of those being Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk. The debate whether DeMelo or Logan Stanley should be the third has ramped up given Stanley’s strong showing as a rookie.
DeMelo played 52 games for the Jets and recorded nine assists in the first season of a four-year, $12 million deal he signed in the offseason, recording nine assists and seeing his possession numbers and ice time dip. Despite that, he was extremely effective with Morrissey when the two were paired together at the end of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers.
This author’s on record that the Jets should protect DeMelo over Stanley, but freely admits that many see it differently.
Hellebuyck Believes Jets Can Be a Dynasty
It’s strange to hear someone using the word “dynasty” two days after being flattened like a Smart Car by a semi. But goaltender Connor Hellebuyck — always a brashly confident sort — did just that. “Nothing that happened this year was a fluke,” he claimed. “We’re very close to being able to make runs and being a dynasty.”
If that’s the case, the Jets will need to address a number of issues this offseason, including their too-often-subpar defence, forward combinations that consistently get caved in five-on-five, and an over-reliance on goaltending to bail them out.
Jets Say Maurice Hasn’t Lost the Room
Three Jets went to bat for their coach, someone a large portion of the fanbase feel isn’t the man for the job anymore. Ehlers said he believes everyone on the team is happy with Maurice’s coaching, both on and off the ice.
Blake Wheeler also praised the coach, saying he never lost the room. “I’ve been on teams where the coach has lost the team and the message isn’t received and guys roll their eyes every time he says something, but that has just never happened with Paul,” Wheeler said.
“The guys have just ton of respect for him because he’s first of all a good person and a good man and he treats us as people… the way Paul handled our team this year was almost as good as he’s ever been,” Wheeler continued, saying Maurice’s line combinations and feel for the team were “right on.”
Scheifele expressed similar sentiments. “There’s a lot of guys who love him. he’s a fantastic coach, he’s definitely one of the good ones in this league, and he definitely has my full support,” he said.
These quotes will come much to the chagrin of the “Mo Must Go” crowd, who feel Maurice has taken the team as far as they can go and that fresh blood and a fresh brain behind the bench is needed to get to the next level.
Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will speak later in the week. It will be interesting to hear their takes on what went wrong this season and what their plans are going forward.
Was anything said by the players at the media availability that surprised you? Agree or disagree with any of the hotter takes? Comment below!
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.