Winnipeg Jets fans hoping to see a little bit more of their favourite players after their team was bounced from the Stanley Cup Playoffs exactly a month earlier than a season ago will be disappointed by makeup of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship rosters.
16 Teams, 100-Plus NHLers, Zero Jets
The 16 countries represented at the tournament, which began yesterday in Slovakia and runs through May 26, have more than 100 NHL players
on their rosters — those from the teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs and those from teams that have been bounced from the postseason. However, those rosters are completely bereft of Jets, as all members of the Winnipeg squad declined to don their country’s colours.
The Jets have historically been present at the spring tournament and have 10 members who have played in it before:
- Kyle Connor (United States, 2016)
- Andrew Copp (United States, 2017)
- Nikolaj Ehlers (Denmark, 2016)
- Connor Hellebuyck (United States, 2014, 2016, 2017)
- Patrik Laine (Finland, 2016)
- Josh Morrissey (Canada, 2017)
- Tyler Myers (United States, 2014, as a member of the Buffalo Sabres)
- Mark Scheifele (Canada, 2015, 2016, 2017)
- Jacob Trouba (United States, 2013, 2014, 2017)
- Blake Wheeler (United States, 2011, as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers)
The lone player from the Jets’ organization to play this year is Marko Dano, who the Jets placed on waivers but later reclaimed and assigned to the Manitoba Moose, where he tallied 30 points in 51 games. He’s on host Slovakia.
It’s not as though the players on the above list aren’t good enough. If one omits Copp and Myers, the seven remaining skaters combined for 409 points this season and would represent upgrades in many cases.
You don’t think Canada would have loved to have Scheifele as one of their men in the middle or the United States wouldn’t have been pumped to have 71-assist-getter Wheeler as their top-line right-winger?
“Considering the Jets have a deep pool of talent that would likely excel on the big ice and an international stage, you would think they’d be well-represented. So what gives?” the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre asked recently (from ‘Jets noticeably absent from World Hockey Championship’, Winnipeg Free Press, 05/07/19.)
Some Reasons Are Obvious…
Before you jump to conclusions and assume Jets players just don’t love their countries, some of the players have legitimate outs.
Nikolaj Ehlers suffered a fracture in his leg in Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues after blocking a Colton Parayko shot (an injury the forward played through in Game 6.)
Laine has been hampered by ongoing back and groin problems and Morrissey — who returned for playoffs — is still recovering from a separated shoulder that caused him to miss the Jets’ last 20 regular season games. It makes sense those players take time to recover and get into ship-shape for September.
Connor and Trouba, on the other hand, were healthy (as far as we know), but are both pending RFAs; there’s no doubt the risk of getting injured influenced their decisions to pass.
Trouba looks as though he’s on his way out of town and will want to be healthy come fall for whichever of the many potential suitors Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff deals him to, while Connor’s due a massive raise from his entry-level contract.
The World Championship isn’t a rough-and-tumble tourney, but there’s always a risk of getting hurt; an example occurred just a few days ago when Toronto Maple Leafs’ star John Tavares suffered an oblique injury in practice and had to pull out before games even began.
…But Other Reasons Are More Opaque
For players such as Scheifele and Wheeler, there’s no readily apparent reason they declined invitations, given receiving one is considered an honour.
Nor did the top-line pair provide media with any. Scheifele, for example, simply shook his head “no” during his interview on the final media day of the season, which came two days after the team was eliminated.
We don’t know the reasons Hellebuyck and Byfuglien didn’t go either— neither even spoke to reporters on “garbage bag day” — so we can only speculate.
Given Scheifele’s despondent and lifeless demeanour during his interview, Wheeler’s overall surliness as the captain of a sinking ship that slumped badly down the stretch and couldn’t stay afloat due to its myriad of baggage, and Hellebuyck and Byfuglien’s decisions to exit stage left without even so much as a “so long,” seem to indicate everyone was simply sick of hockey.
Needing a break is fine — the NHL season is a long, hard slog — and as McIntyre put it, “this year’s team, especially in the last couple of the months of the season, was not having a lot of fun.”
The key for the players who passed is to use the time to refocus, recharge, and come into training camp in September revved up and ready to achieve what they should have achieved this season.
World Championship is Still Worth Watching for Jets Fans
Even though there will be no Laine lasers or Scheifele snipes in Bratislava or Kosice, Jets fans shouldn’t write the World Championship off, and instead should tune in anyway.
It’s still a great two weeks of hockey featuring many of the league’s most elite. The fact that it’s on during North American mornings and afternoons is a bonus too. Daytime television is a vast wasteland… save Judge Judy, of course.
The day games can act as an appetizer for the evening’s main course of either the Eastern Conference Final between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes or the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.
Alternately, it can give a hockey fix to Jets fans who are tired of seeing rookie phenom Jordan Binnington steal games like he did against the Jets or seeing the tight-knit fun-loving Hurricanes — the antithesis of the scowly, tense, and reportedly fractured Jets team we saw much of in 2019 — make a run for the Stanley Cup.
More hockey, even if that hockey doesn’t involve Jets players, is never a bad thing. Jets fans could do way worse with their time, such as fretting that their favourites aren’t a part of it.