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Jets go home early

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They met, they packed up their belongings and said their good-byes.

It’s never easy when a hockey season ends in a loss and especially so when the year doesn’t include any playoff hockey. But as the Winnipeg Jets, 2011-12 edition, met for the final time Sunday afternoon while cleaning out their lockers, there was also a sense of optimism about the future.

"We did a lot of good things this year," said defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. "We just need to be committed for a full year. We can’t take games off. You take games off and this is what you’re doing: packing up your stuff and going home early."

The Jets finished the season with a 37-35-10 mark and 84 points, good for fourth in the Southeast Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. But as long as they remained in the playoff picture — they weren’t officially eliminated until Game 79 of the season — they did finish closer to the bottom of the conference, Montreal had 78 points, than to a playoff spot — eighth-place Ottawa had 92 points.

The hockey staff met with the players Sunday and coach Claude Noel made it evident that come next season the expectations will be cranked up considerably.

"We had a good meeting with the players and talked for about 15-20 minutes," said Noel. "Chevy (GM Kevin Cheveldayoff) and (owner/governor) Mark (Chipman) talked a little bit about where we wanted to go as an organization and as a team and what would change this year vs. next year. We don’t want to be standing here in April next year going down this same path at this time of year. How do we prevent that? How do we start that process? We gave them food for thought about moving forward. Things have to change."

Asked to elaborate further, Noel added:

"The first thing for me is we have to be better. Our attitude has to be better. We have to want and expect to be in the playoffs. Our conduct, our existence just has to be better, that’s where it starts and I think we’re getting there and that’s what I want them to think about over the summer.

There’s something to be said for walking like a champion. Guys that have won before, they just conduct themselves a certain way. People that haven’t, conduct themselves in another way and I think we can do some things in the right fashion."

Jets management has some key personnel decisions to make within the next few months. Evander Kane, Ondrej Pavelec, Eric Fehr and Spencer Machacek are all restricted free agents and there are seven unrestricted free agents: Tanner Glass, Kyle Wellwood, Jim Slater, Chris Mason, Tim Stapleton, Randy Jones and Mark Flood.

"Playing in a Canadian market and playing in front of these fans every night definitely made it fun to come to the rink and play hockey," said Kane. "I really enjoyed playing in the MTS Centre and with this group of guys. It’s disappointing not to make the playoffs, but at the same time I thought there were a lot of positives with the season."

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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