Jets noticeably absent from World Hockey Championship rosters

There's no question the Winnipeg Jets wish they were still playing hockey right now. A first-round playoff exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues wasn't exactly how they drew things up.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/05/2019 (1244 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s no question the Winnipeg Jets wish they were still playing hockey right now. A first-round playoff exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues wasn’t exactly how they drew things up.

And yet, when presented with a golden opportunity to extend the season — not to mention perhaps get some of the sour taste out of their mouths — multiple members of the team curiously took a pass.

The IIHF World Hockey Championship kicks off Friday, and you won’t find a single current member of the Jets on any rosters of the 16 countries that will face off in the annual spring tournament. (Marko Dano of the Manitoba Moose will play for host Slovakia, while free-agent defenceman Bogdan Kiselevich, who never played a game with the Jets after being acquired at the February trade deadline, will suit up for Russia).

Patrik Laine was battling both a back and groin injury late in the season and opted to recover rather than play for Finland. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

By my count, there are 107 active NHL players who will be playing in the event, coming almost entirely from the 15 teams that missed the playoffs and eight that were knocked out in the opening round. That includes some of the biggest names in the game, including Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Leon Draisaitl, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Elias Pettersson and Henrik Lundqvist.

Considering the Jets have a deep pool of talent that would likely excel on the big ice and an international stage, you would think they’d be well-represented. So what gives?

A few players have built-in excuses.

Patrik Laine was battling both a back and groin injury late in the season and opted to rest and recover rather than suit up for Finland. Same goes for Nikolaj Ehlers, who suffered a fracture in his leg during Game 5. Although he managed to dress for Game 6, it was serious enough to keep him from joining Denmark.

Josh Morrissey would have been a great addition to the blueline for Canada, but he was still dealing with a major shoulder injury (separation) that sidelined him for the final six weeks of the regular-season. And while he made it back for the playoffs, he clearly wasn’t playing at 100 per cent. It makes sense to skip the event.

As for everyone else, your guess is as good as mine.

Mark Scheifele simply shook his head to the negative when asked if he was going to play for Canada at his season-ending media session on April 22. There’s no indication of an injury, although perhaps he was keeping it hidden. The 26-year-old clearly wasn’t the same player down the stretch, and I’ve already spilled plenty of ink over the last couple of weeks trying to get a sense of what was up with the team’s No. 1 centre.

Josh Morrissey would have been a great addition for Canada, but he was still dealing with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the final six weeks of the regular-season. (Jeff Roberson / The Associated Press files)

Tavares jumped at the offer once his Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated, and he and Scheifele would have given Canada a powerful one-two punch down the middle, while joining other stars such as Mark Stone (Vegas) and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia).

How about captain Blake Wheeler, who also declined but didn’t give a reason? No doubt the 32 year old would have been a key addition to a United States squad that includes stars such as Gaudreau (Calgary), Eichel (Buffalo) and Kane (Chicago).

Defenceman Jacob Trouba and forward Kyle Connor would be obvious boosts to the U.S. roster, yet are absent. In their cases, I suspect their status as pending restricted free agents played a role. An agent probably wouldn’t want his client going overseas to play and risk injury with contract negotiations looming. Fair enough.

What about goaltender Connor Hellebuyck? I’d love to give you an answer, but he didn’t even make an appearance during so-called “garbage bag” day down at Bell MTS Place for us to ask him. He would have been a major upgrade over U.S. netminders Cory Schneider (New Jersey) and Thatcher Demko (Vancouver).

Same goes for fellow American Dustin Byfuglien, who bolted from the rink before he could be called to the podium to meet the media. A squad that has defencemen such as Brady Skjei (New York Rangers), Christian Wolanin (Ottawa), Alec Martinez (Los Angeles), Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) and Adam Fox (yet to play an NHL game coming out of Harvard) surely could have made room for Big Buff, had he been willing.

That’s at least nine members of the Jets who would have been obvious candidates to play in the Worlds: three of them (Laine, Ehlers and Morrissey) have injuries; two others (Trouba and Connor) have contract issues which may have factored in; and the other four (Scheifele, Wheeler, Byfuglien and Hellebuyck) have big question marks beside their names.

Mark Scheifele shook his head when asked if he was going to play for Canada. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

All of which takes me back to a point I’ve made a few times now: this year’s team, especially in the last couple of the months of the season, was not having a lot of fun.

Is it any surprise, then, that key members of a club that came up well short of expectations were looking for the nearest exit as soon as the season ended?

I get there was bitter disappointment, but find me a single player at the Worlds who is happy to have not qualified for the playoffs or got bounced quickly. It didn’t stop any of them from representing their country.

It’s worth noting several current Jets have played in the event in the past, including Scheifele (2014, ’16, ’17), Trouba (2013, ’14, ’17), Hellebuyck (2014, ’15, ’17), Connor (2016), Ehlers (2016), Morrissey (2017), Andrew Copp (2017) and Tyler Myers (2014 while a member of the Buffalo Sabres). Ondrej Pavelec, Olli Jokinen, Alex Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane also played while they were Jets, which makes this year’s shutout all the more puzzling, and in my view, just more evidence of the sour mood surrounding this team by the end.

I can’t help but think of that “bunch of jerks” in Carolina who have advanced to the Eastern Conference final after upsetting both Washington and the New York Islanders. Is there a group of pro athletes having more fun than the Hurricanes are at the moment?

At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink.

From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward.

Dustin Byfuglien wasn't even around during the final media day of the season, so he didn't reveal why he isn't playing for the United States. (Jeff Roberson / The Associated Press files)

Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season. It’s just too bad nobody will be able to talk about their experience at the World Hockey Championship in Slovakia.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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