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A question of accountability

Buzzword sums up fate of team with no playoffs

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Before their season started, accountability was an identified issue for the Winnipeg Jets.

It seemed a wise choice, promoting a foundation that would lead the team to a consistency that has eluded it.

And did again, since the 2013-14 campaign contained a few too many ups and downs to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

After their final four games of the regular season were rendered irrelevant and the Jets met for a final time as a team on Sunday, at least they had not forgotten the theme.

"Yes," Jets leading scorer Blake Wheeler said on the accountability question. "That's kind of a tricky word because it's an easy one to throw out there. At the beginning of every year, I think everyone says we need to be accountable to one another. But to what extent? It gets played out as the year goes on.

'I think Paul has brought a sense of leadership as a coach and a confidence to the room, in himself and in a lot of the guys on our team'

-- Jets winger Evander Kane

"I think that's an area, if we improve, it will make us a better hockey team."

That area clearly did not improve enough during the season and led to the dismissal of head coach Claude Noel. Paul Maurice replaced him in mid-January.

"I think they had different approaches," Wheeler said. "For our group, there's definitely times we need to get kicked in the behind a little bit. So that's a card that needs to be played. I think Paul's gotten a feel for that a little bit."

The dozen or so players interviewed on Sunday all lobbied for Maurice's return, which hasn't been finalized yet.

Most also lobbied for the same group to come back and give it another try, in some ways strange because the team in Winnipeg has missed the playoffs in each of its three seasons since the relocation, and the four seasons prior to that in Atlanta.

'For our group, there's definitely times we need to get kicked in the behind a little bit'

-- Jets winger Blake Wheeler

"I believe in this group," captain Andrew Ladd said Sunday, and rather passionately. "Playoffs is one thing but I'm not here to just to make the playoffs. We want to build something here where we're contending year after year. I feel like we have the guys in our group to do that, the work ethic and the fire to be there. It's something we'll continue to strive to do."

Added goalie Ondrej Pavelec: "I believe that we're going the right direction with Paul and the group we have here."

Jets left-winger Evander Kane, sometimes a hard man to pin down on issues, also professed support.

"I think Paul has brought a sense of leadership as a coach and a confidence to the room, in himself and in a lot of the guys on our team," Kane said. "That was a big message from him and hopefully it can pay off going forward."

Maurice himself touched on the accountability hot button on Sunday, revisiting things he's said in recent weeks and days, including when he disciplined Kane with a healthy scratch just more than a week ago for being late to a team function.

"First you have to know what's expected before you can hold anybody accountable, reasonably," Maurice said. "That is on and off the ice.

"The structure of who we are and this is what you do -- this is what we'll hold you accountable to."

And he specifically mentioned as an example being on time.

Had the Jets been more prompt with some consistency this season, a different tale might have been told.

"We didn't win enough games," Ladd said on the team's record, stating the obvious before expanding.

"I think whenever you don't win enough, it's usually related to consistency. I thought we found that consistency in the back half of the season but at that point you put yourself in the situation where maybe the games you come out on the wrong end of and should have won hurt you a lot more."

It seems pretty clear the Jets see the problem. They'll have more than five months before they can actually do anything about it.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2014 C3

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