Veteran D-men search for answers

This isn’t even close to where we thought we’d be: Dillon


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They ride to the rink together on a daily basis, a 30-minute trip in each direction that provides plenty of opportunity to solve all the world’s problems.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/04/2022 (328 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They ride to the rink together on a daily basis, a 30-minute trip in each direction that provides plenty of opportunity to solve all the world’s problems.

Veteran defencemen Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt, the two big off-season additions many thought had the Winnipeg Jets headed in the right direction, say they’ve had a tough time coming up with answers as to why a once-promising season crashed and burned.

“We’ve dissected it a lot the last month or two, going through everything to try and figure out what’s happened,” Schmidt said Wednesday. “It’s something that we have, ad nauseam, tried to figure out what we can do.”

One obvious and clear-cut conclusion has been reached.

“This isn’t even close to where we thought we’d be,” said Dillon. “To know where it went wrong or to point the finger at something, I don’t know if it’s one thing. I think getting to know these guys over the course of the last seven, eight months, we all care, we all want to do our best. I think that’s the thing about a team. We have a bunch of unbelievably talented… I mean our roster, top to bottom, it just looks like we’ve got everything we need. The goaltending, the defence, the scorers, the checkers. To put my finger on one thing why, I don’t know, I wish I could tell you.”

The task will fall to True North in this most important off-season, which officially begins Sunday evening after the Jets finish out a frustrating 82-game campaign against the Seattle Kraken. But Dillon and Schmidt, along with forward Nikolaj Ehlers, became the latest players to offer up some hard truths.

“Wasted,” is how Ehlers summed up the year, hours prior to puck drop against the Philadelphia Flyers. “We came in here with a belief that we knew we were going to be a playoff team. It was a matter of having the right mentality, playing the right way, and doing all the small things right. I think when you look back now, in this league you have to be a little more humble than that. This isn’t an easy league to play in, to get wins in. We didn’t do all those small things right. We didn’t play enough good games, obviously, or else we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

Ehlers then offered up this eyebrow-raiser in response to the million-dollar query of “Why?”

“We, mentally, have a lot to change in the way that we prepare for games and get ready to play NHL hockey games, because this year was just not enough,” said the 26-year-old, who is headed to the world championship in Finland next month to compete for his home country of Denmark.

“Yeah, we had injuries. Yeah, we had guys out with COVID. But every team in this league has that every single year. There are really no excuses for us to be in the situation we’re in right now.”

All of which adds an air of uncertainty around the team, one that could see major changes over the next few months. Could general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, for example, try to trade a big-name, big salary blue-liner such as Schmidt or Dillon to change the mix of the club while also opening up a job or two for one of the young defensive prospects currently biding their time with the Manitoba Moose? Could there be a summer blockbuster, with a core forward on the move?

“I think in sports the definition of insanity, we all know, is having the same group or doing the same things or whatever it might be and expecting something different,” said Dillon.

“And that’s not to say it means to trade 10 guys or doesn’t mean that we need… again, a lot of those decisions are above my pay grade. For everybody going home this summer it can’t just be expecting to come back and having my spot or this is my ice time. Whatever that role is, we’ve all got to at least take that and say I want to get better this summer, I want to come back and help the Winnipeg Jets get better because this year really was a, it does feel like a waste of a year when you think about what could have been.”

Dillon, 31, and Schmidt, 30, say there’s added frustration, not to mention urgency, when a lost year happens while on the “back nine” of your career, which is the case for both of them.

“(The phrase) ‘there’s always next year works’ when you’re younger,” said Schmidt. “When you’re older, it’s harder because you only have so many years. You start to see that there’s a time where there’s a definitive end to this game. So, it’s hard to see another year go. It sucks.”

Winnipeg was 9-3-3 and on top of the Central Division after 15 games, only to have the bottom quickly fall out. After winning just four of the next 13 games, longtime coach Paul Maurice shocked everyone by resigning, a move Schmidt admitted left his “jaw on the floor.”

“We did start pretty well, but it’s still an 82-game season. If you play 15 games the right way, that’s not going to be enough for you. We just didn’t play our best,” said Ehlers, who added it’s important the Jets don’t just go through the motions over these final few home games.

“We’ve still got three games to show the fans that, I wouldn’t say we’re sorry, but that we’re better than this.”

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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