For love of the game (and money, pride, fame…)

Jets players will put it all on display as season winds down

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National Hockey League teams have to dress a lineup that adheres to league rules, but what’s to stop insiders from making moves that detrimentally affect their team?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/03/2016 (2445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

National Hockey League teams have to dress a lineup that adheres to league rules, but what’s to stop insiders from making moves that detrimentally affect their team?

It’s universally held players and coaches refuse to lose on purpose to gain a high draft pick in the draft; it’s just not in their DNA. But for the teams at the bottom of the NHL standings, how intense is the effort when the season is basically over (i.e. the Winnipeg Jets)?

Every player is different and may have various degrees of the following in their makeup:

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The playoffs are a long-ago extinguished dream, but the Jets are under pressure to perform at a high level until the end of the disappointing season.

A player’s pride is most often brought up; both in himself and the sweater he wears. That covers a large majority of players, but they are also human, and some can get bitten by the losing bug. Something simple, such as not throwing their body in front a blistering shot, instead electing to lightly put their stick in its path, can lead to a goal against.

When battling for possession of the puck in a corner, they can treat that puck like it’s a juicy cheeseburger and they haven’t eaten in four days and win that battle. With a bit less effort, they aren’t eating that day either. The worst of those plays lead to losing for obvious reasons.

One hope that balances the scales is that while most players play for the love of the game, they want the money as well. Taking care of family is paramount and players are aware of the increasing amount of statistics NHL teams are tracking. These are far beyond goals, assists, penalty minutes and plus/minus; there’s nowhere to hide anymore when it comes time to talk contract with general managers.

There’s also the type of player that gives it his all every shift, every game, no matter what the team’s record is. They are the ones that take the coach at his word when he says early on game days, “Just focus on tonight.” They focus on what is directly in front of them. Sometimes, they are not very good players and it’s the only reason they are in the NHL, so they have to be this way.

This season, a lot of teams not making the playoffs are inundated with young players due to injuries and a lack of depth. This adds another type of player to the list — and a different reason for bringing their best effort every game.

Gone are the days where a team full of veteran players with long contracts played out the remaining games, spending more time planning end-of-season vacations than preparing for the next opponent.

In the salary cap world of the modern NHL, lengthy, expensive contracts are being handed out more judiciously and the league is being populated by younger, cheaper players. These players are hungry, and those on teams at the bottom of the standings are either auditioning for a spot on the team next season or competing for a bigger role in the future.

As part of the current Jets lineup, rookies Scott Kosmachuk and J.C. Lipon are bringing their energy and different skill sets every shift as they look to get a leg up on the competition. Younger players such as forwards Alexander Burmistrov, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry are looking to get slotted into the top nine on the depth chart going into training camp.

The team’s two best “young guns” — Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba — are both playing for contracts this summer (as is Lowry). You’ll see whatever they have in their tank the rest of the way.

No worries either about the long-time veterans. Blake Wheeler, Mathieu Perreault, Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom will show up ready to play every night. They are aware of the NHL’s current high regard for stats, have their pride, of course, and know they have to lead this group.

Drew Stafford has talked about how losing (during his time with the Buffalo Sabres) can get into a team’s psyche and needs to be stopped. I imagine Tyler Myers (his teammate in Buffalo as well as Winnipeg) feels the same.

The others are playing for their hockey lives, including goalies Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec, Paul Postma and Ben Chariot on defence and Chris Thorburn and Matt Halischuk at forward (despite the last two being part of the “every shift, every game” crew described earlier).

The Jets should come up with a good effort every game through to the end of this hapless season. The players all have good reasons to do so — and I stand by their effort, even after Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. Wins don’t matter at this point when evaluating players.

However, there’s a warning attached to all these good feelings.

When in a playoff race, one mistake by a player can cost the team a playoff berth. You don’t want to let down your teammates, management, coaches and fans.

The pressure the players put on themselves to get a better spot in the lineup next year is completely different than the extra pressure of performing on a big stage to make many people happy. It has sent many players to minuscule or non-existent roles throughout NHL history.

Jets fans will need to watch the players closely the next 12 games.

If you don’t have the time, that’s okay. I’ll tell you what I think.

Chosen ninth overall by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.

Twitter: @NHL_Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell
Columnist

Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.

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