THIS is how it works in pro sports: A GM can't fire 20-plus players when things go sour. But he can axe a coach.
And so, not surprisingly, those left behind in the wake of the Winnipeg Jets' decision to fire Claude Noel and assistant coach Perry Pearn admitted Sunday they 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 Noel. "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, reeled off three straight wins after Christmas but are now in a five-game nosedive. Frustration levels were at an all-time high; confidence levels at new lows.
"I've been trying to wrap my head (around it) and figure it out for a while now," said Jets captain Andrew 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 (we) 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.
"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."
Ladd said he would try to reach out to Noel, the team's coach in Winnipeg 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 21/2 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 you let them down in a lot of different ways."
But now that Noel is gone and a new voice is being parachuted in, the comfort levels in the dressing room get dialed down considerably. No, 20 players can't be fired. But if the losing continues, the pieces can be shipped out one by one.
"We let the coaching staff down," said veteran centre Olli Jokinen. "It's tough to change 25 players. I think every player should feel pretty bad about this change. It's tough. You've got coaches, they spend a lot of hours at the rink and try to figure out how to turn things around and we didn't respond very well.
"And now they're the ones who have to pay the price. It's hard. Now it's up to the players... because it doesn't take a rocket scientist. Everybody knows what's going to happen next if it doesn't go well -- that the players are going to get shipped out."
--with files from Tim Campbell
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