Wheeler stripped of C
Bowness wants expanded leadership group for Jets; former captain says role had become a burden
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/09/2022 (265 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Jets no longer have a captain.
The club announced Friday that Blake Wheeler has been stripped of his captaincy after six seasons of wearing the C. The Jets have restructured their leadership model and will head into the upcoming 2022-23 season with a group of assistants and not one designated captain.
Wheeler, who was named captain in 2016 following the departure of Andrew Ladd, told a room of reporters at BellMTS Iceplex Friday he was surprised by the decision, but also, being the leader of a team in a hockey-crazed market like Winnipeg had started to become a burden.
“There’s nothing in my life that I’ve taken more pride in than that, outside of being a husband and being a father,” Wheeler said.
“Every day since I was named captain, that’s what has gotten me out of bed. How can I be a better teammate, how can I be a better leader, how can I be a better player on the ice for this city and for this team and for this organization. So yeah, at a certain point, that can wear thin on you. I’m just incredibly grateful that I’ve had this opportunity. That’s how I feel.”
After a disappointing 39-32-11 season and countless reports of the Jets locker room being a toxic environment, change was in order. Jets head coach Rick Bowness, who’s heading into his first season leading True North’s franchise, wasted no time in shaking things up. With a new staff in charge, he felt now was the right time to make changes across the board.
“We want the core group to grow a little bit so it’s not just one face coming out here talking to the media every day when things don’t go well. We’re a family here. That’s what I’m trying to tell them. We’re all in this fight together every day. We’re a family. We all have to be held accountable,” Bowness said.
“We have to support each other, we have to help each other, we have to push each other — and that’s what we’re trying to establish. In order to do that, you need more people pushing and pulling it together. Blake is still going to lead. He is. Whether you have a C or an A, or you don’t, he’s still going to lead us. I’ve been around the league in some capacity for 47 years. Some of the best leaders I’ve coached never had a C, never had an A. What we’re trying to do now is try to get more guys in that group to take that responsibility and be proud of it.”
Bowness wouldn’t reveal who the assistant captains are or say how many the team was going to have. But Wheeler said whether he has an A on his sweater or not, he’s still going to be himself.
“I don’t need a letter on my jersey. There was a time in my career where that validation was important to me. I don’t need that anymore,” said Wheeler.
“I’m really looking forward to watching a lot of the guys I’ve had a privilege watching kind of grow up step into sort of an expanded role. If you think that because of this, I’m just going to fade into the back and not be a leader on this team, you’re sorely mistaken.”
The captaincy was the story of the day, but the elephant in the room was whether or not Wheeler wants to be in Winnipeg as rumours swirled in the summer that he had asked for a trade. Wheeler has two years left on his contract.
“I think, yeah, when you have a down season you’re going to have to have those conversations. I’ve been here 11 years and it’s… you’d be crazy not to A; look in the mirror at yourself, and then also look at an 11-year relationship and say, ‘is this still in our best interest going forward?’ Ultimately, we made the determination that it is, so here I am,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler’s pal Mark Scheifele was doing interviews at the NHL Player Media Tour in Las Vegas on Friday shortly after the news broke. Scheifele described the decision as a shocker.
‘There’s nothing in my life that I’ve taken more pride in than that, outside of being a husband and being a father.’– Blake Wheeler on being captain of the Winnipeg Jets
“(Bowness) called me this morning. We haven’t really had that conversation of what the reason behind it is. So, I’m excited to have those conversations, understand from an organizational standpoint what the reason is. It’s something we’ll have to think about and talk about and understand. Right now, it’s just be there for everyone, care for each other. It’s a tough thing for Wheels to deal with, but he has the support of everyone in the room,” Scheifele said in conversation with Matt Larkin of Daily Faceoff.
“I want to be there for him, be a friend. He’s still a mentor of mine, a guy I’ve learned a lot from. It gives an opportunity for a lot of other guys to step in and be leaders. It’s not just going to be one guy or two guys or three guys. It’s going to be a whole. It’s going to give a lot of young guys the opportunity to feel like they can step into a leadership role and that’s only going to be better for our team.”
Wheeler’s tenure at captain didn’t have a storybook ending, but the veteran forward is thankful he got to wear the most prestigious letter in hockey in the first place.
“I just couldn’t be more grateful that I had that opportunity. Never in my wildest dreams as a young player growing up, I never thought I would be in that fraternity of being a captain of an NHL team, so like I said, it’s what has given me so much joy and gotten me out of bed and given me a lot of drive for this organization and this city,” Wheeler said.
“I just look back and I’m just grateful that I’ve had that opportunity.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...
Updated on Friday, September 16, 2022 10:26 PM CDT: The Jets record was 39-32-11 last season.