Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Honeymoon over: Phase II begins

Players know fans will expect much more in seasons to come

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AFTER the honeymoon comes regular life and some of the leaders of the Winnipeg Jets are eager for it.

Not that they didn't enjoy the thrill of meeting their new city and fan base in 2011-12, but now that they see what's possible from their backers, the Jets savour the idea of better things on the ice.

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"I think eventually the fans will get to the point where they expect more," said Jets assistant captain, defenceman Mark Stuart on Sunday, a day after the team completed its first season in Winnipeg at 37-35-10. "I'm not afraid of that. I look forward to that, actually.

"That pressure should be there from them. They should expect us to make the playoffs. They should expect us to win. I think we expect more of ourselves and eventually the city will expect more of us. Eventually we'll maybe be wishing it was still the honeymoon but that's the way it should be."

The Jets stayed in the hunt for a playoff berth until late March, officially eliminated after Game 79. At 84 points, they eventually finished eight back of the eighth-place Ottawa Senators, officially in 11th place in the conference.

"I think it's headed in the right direction," team captain Andrew Ladd said of the team's four-point improvement over their final season as the Atlanta Thrashers in 2010-11. "I think it's something that's going to take some time. It's everyone in this room that's going to have to buy into it and really make it work at the end of the day but I think we're headed in the right direction.

"We saw growth. I think that's a big thing."

The Jets' leading scorer, Blake Wheeler, was asked to peer into the crystal ball after his 64-point campaign.

"I don't think much needs to change at all," Wheeler said. "I think we have a lot of pieces in place. I just think that guys need to demand more out of themselves and make this result unacceptable.

"(Making the playoffs) has got to be the expectation and icing on the cake is going all the way. When we get to that point, that's when we'll know we've done the right things. The mentality is getting to the right place right now."

The year-over-year progress has been evident to the Jets' top centre, Bryan little.

"They (Jets management) all had high expectations and the thing they wanted to change was the ways things were going in Atlanta," Little said. "We made the playoffs once in 10 years there and they want to change that, they don't want it to be the way it was in Atlanta. We want to be a playoff team."

Little was asked if that was the culture change GM Kevin Cheveldayoff frequently mentions.

"You can just see in our meetings today... no one is happy, no one is satisfied with the way the season ended," Little said. "Next year we don't want to be in this position, being out this early. We want to be in the playoffs. No one is satisfied with how this season went."

The specifics on how the team is likely to change for next season will occupy much conversation in the coming months.

"A little more depth up front is something we need," Ladd said, asked his opinion. "I think we're headed in the right direction. We have a lot of good pieces and I think it's just trying to find how to put the pieces together to work well."

Stuart said he's got complete trust in those in charge to determine which pieces coach Claude Noel will try to fit together in 2012-13 but said a post-honeymoon change in attitude is essential.

"As a player, that's what you live and die on, the playoffs and championships," Stuart said. "If you don't, it's failure. If you don't make the playoffs in a season, you didn't reach your goal.

"But on the other hand... we made strides and we have a good future ahead of us."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2012 C3

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