Claude Noel and Perry Pearn were pink-slipped by the Winnipeg Jets Sunday morning. And, not surprisingly, those left behind felt like they had a good deal of blood on their hands.
"We feel entirely responsible," said Blake Wheeler Sunday at MTS Iceplex, a day that was supposed to be set aside for practice but instead became a farewell to their head coach. "Ultimately, we're the ones on the ice not getting the job done. I think we're all responsible, but as players we really need to look at ourselves. This is an indication of the product we're putting on the ice right now.
"The way we've been going, some sort of change was probably inevitable. Unfortunately, this is going to have to be a wake-up call for our team. I don't want to say anything was needed because those are two good guys that lost their job today. It's tough, but the way things were going... it wasn't going. If this is what it's going to take to get us pointed in the right direction then I guess that's what needed to happen."
The Jets, 19-23-5, had reeled off three straight wins after Christmas but are now in the midst of a five-game nosedive. Frustration levels were at an all-time high; confidence levels at new lows.
"We just fell off the rails," said Wheeler. "We came back after the New Year and things were looking good with three straight wins. I don’t know, to be honest with you. It's just kind of been one thing after another that has been leading up to this point. It's been this year, it's been last year, it's been the year before... it's kind of been the same thing over and over again. You take two steps forward and then two steps back all the time."
Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd said he would try to reach out to Noel, the team’s coach here in Winnipeg for the 2 ½ years since its’ relocation from Atlanta.
"Yeah, I will. I don't know what I'm going to say right now, to be honest with you," said Ladd. "You spend 2 1/2 years with a guy, and everyone knows Claude... he always comes to the rink with a great attitude and a smile on his face. I think a lot of people in here enjoyed working with him.
"It's tough to see. They worked extremely hard to try and get this thing on track. As a player you feel let them down in a lot of different ways."
Asked why he thought this team had headed south this season, what with expectations inside the organization they could push for a playoff spot, Ladd was as lost as those who have watched this outfit spike and crash all year.
"I've been trying to wrap my head and figure it out for a while now," said Ladd. "Hopefully this brings some energy to this group and desperation that we need right now.
"This group, we talk all the time about trying to create something here where it’s expected to show up every day and play a certain way, work a certain way and create an identity not only for this room but for this whole organization. That's what we're still striving to do.
"It's part of what sometimes happens. Things get stale and I think it's part of what Chevy was to do here is shake things up and get everyone in this room going. As a player you have to look yourself in the mirror first and figure out what you have to do to get better and help this group. If we all do that, we'll take a step forward."