GIVEN the forecasts of pessimism for a team many believe is falling behind in the NHL's difficult Central Division, thick skin is going to come in handy this fall, Jets captain Andrew Ladd suggested Wednesday
"I think you learn that they are predications and until you start playing games and see where you're at from that standpoint, they don't really mean anything," Ladd said Wednesday, asked at the Stars FORE Special O golf tournament what he thinks of all the off-season banter about his team. "It's just a bunch of chatter that everybody likes to talk about in the summer when there's nothing else going on.
"I think as a group we can use it as motivation to tell each other that no one's really giving us a chance and there's nothing wrong with that."
Ladd's teammate Blake Wheeler, coming off a 69-point season that led the Jets in scoring, said he's not all that interested in reminders from the past.
"Last season was a tough year," Wheeler said. "I think it's good to kind of put that in the past, wash your hands of that and look forward to having new opportunities this year.
"The great thing about it is that everyone starts at the same point. It's a great opportunity for us to try to get off to a better start than we've had in the past. I think our team is motivated, not just wins or losses, but we're trying to prepare ourselves to get off to a good start. The preparation is what it's really all about this year. The rest will take care of itself."
In its third year in Winnipeg, the team opened with eight of its first 10 games on home ice but had a record of 4-5-1 at that point.
Wheeler has been back in Winnipeg for a few weeks now, aiming to hit the ground running when training camp begins three weeks from today.
"Summer's great but they're getting too long," he said. "I think all the guys are getting pretty anxious to get going again. It seems like once July hits, you're just counting down the days. I'm excited to get back."
The 2013-14 season ended with Winnipeg seven points out of a playoff berth in the Western Conference and new coach Paul Maurice promising a more demanding training camp come September.
Ladd said he's ready for it, feeling that his past habits will put him in good position for the new coach's expectations.
"My training has definitely evolved," Ladd said. "But the team (Carolina) I came into when I was 18, 19 years old, they were ahead of the curve a little on the fitness part of it and that was one of our strengths, how good of shape we were in, that we just kept driving teams into the ground and felt in the third period we'd be able to create enough just through that.
"For me, that was what I was brought into and that's stuck with me ever since. As you get older, it's more about staying healthy and less about lifting lots of weights. As an athlete or player, you have to find your way in that regard, to stay healthy but to stay in shape."
He said he's ready for what Maurice is planning and hopes that cohesion becomes an early priority.
"I think part of the tough training camp is getting our group together and into shape on the ice," Ladd said. "You can work out all you want in the gym in the summer but there's a different level once you get to training camp and once you get to games. Getting to that level as soon as possible out of training camp is what he's trying to accomplish."
The Jets open training camp Sept. 18.