Time for some uncomfortable truths If the Free Press conducted the Jets end-of-season interviews
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/06/2021 (611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s an event that likely ranks somewhere between getting a root canal and a colonoscopy. Necessary, yes. Enjoyable? Heck no.
The painful annual exercise happens Wednesday at Bell MTS Place, where Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice will sit down, one at a time, with his grim-faced players and talk about some uncomfortable truths.
Oh sure, there will be as much positive reinforcement as possible, and the tone will vary depending on who’s sitting in the chair. But what good would these exit interviews be if the elephant in the room wasn’t addressed — specifically, what needs to be done individually and collectively to get the hockey club over the proverbial hump?
With that in mind, here’s what we’d be saying to the regulars following a second-round sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens that brought an abrupt end to their season Monday night at Bell Centre.
To Connor Hellebuyck: “It’s not you. It’s us. Sorry we couldn’t give you a little more goal support. Get some rest this summer. You certainly earned it. We’ll try to do better in front of you next year. Pinky-swear.”
To Laurent Brossoit: “You’ve been the ideal backup for Bucky, and I wouldn’t mind you doing it one more time next season if you’re willing? I know you’re an unrestricted free agent who will probably have some options, but why mess with the good thing we have going here?”
To Mark Scheifele: “I hate to kick you when you’re down, Mark, but what in the world were you thinking? You’re one of our most important players, and that split-second decision to blow up Jake Evans in Game 1 cost us dearly. That said, you have a chance to right the wrong starting in the fall. The next chapter in your story is up to you.”
To Blake Wheeler: “You’re our fearless leader, no doubt. But things are going to have to change around here if we want to reach the promised land. That might mean a lesser-role going forward. Fewer minutes, playing lower in the lineup, that sort of thing. Don’t take it personally. It’s for the best, really. Father Time remains undefeated.”
To Nikolaj Ehlers: “You were one of the few bright spots for us against Montreal, even if the finish wasn’t there. But there’s no question you give a damn. We sure missed you down the regular-season stretch. Don’t tell the rest of the guys, but you are arguably our most important forward, doing things nobody else on this roster can. And hey, what would you think about a promotion to the top power play unit next season?”
To Pierre-Luc Dubois: “Where do we even start? How about we pretend this season didn’t really happen, take a few months to catch our breath and come back for training camp and start all over again. I know many are ready to write you off, but I still believe in you, kid. You’re only 22. Scheifele was still getting his feet wet when he was your age, and look at him now. Keep your head up, block out as much of the noise as you can and work your tail off this summer. To better days ahead.”
To Adam Lowry: “Happy to have you locked up for the long-term, big guy. Along with Nikky, you were one of the few forwards who was really noticeable against Montreal, hitting everything that moves and scoring a big shorthanded goal. A little more touch around the net, along with some puck luck, and there’s no reason you can’t be knocking on the door of 20 next year.”
To Kyle Connor: “Look, there’s no doubt you can do some special things in the offensive zone. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement in your own end, as we were reminded of with costly giveaways that led to goals in Game 2 and Game 3. Spend as much, if not more, time working on that part of your game. We need you to become a better two-way player.”
To Mathieu Perreault: “Time sure flies. Hard to believe it’s been seven years here. If that’s it for your time in Winnipeg, you can leave with your head held high. Heck of a season, considering we tried to give you away for nothing on waivers to start. Good luck in free agency this summer. There’s probably still a spot here in the bottom-six for you, provided the price is right. But I’ll leave that to your agent and Chevy to work out.”
To Andrew Copp: “Playoff hockey is a different animal, isn’t it? All that room you had in the regular-season when you put up career-highs in goals, assists and points sure disappeared fast. Frankly, we could have used a bit more from you in the playoffs, but not for a lack of effort. You sure were snake-bitten. You should get a nice new contract this summer as a restricted free agent. If it goes to arbitration, try not to take it personally. Or do, actually. You seem to play best when there’s a bit of a chip on your shoulder.”
To Paul Stastny: “The sequel is usually never as good as the original, and it’s too bad we couldn’t get to the Final Four again. But you’ve been a great soldier for us, and it was a pleasure getting to see you play your 1,000th game while wearing our jersey. Not sure where this summer will take you as a free agent — we probably have to make some room around here, both with regards to the salary cap and for some of the kids in the pipeline — but you’ve been a consummate pro.”
To Mason Appleton: “Opportunity came knocking this season — and you kicked the door down. Now the key is to not get comfortable. You’re capable of even more than you’ve shown, but it’s largely on you to make that happen. Of course, whether that happens here remains to be seen. Chevy is probably going to leave you unprotected in the expansion draft, and no doubt Seattle will be giving you a long look. Hope to see you back here in September.”
To Nate Thompson: “You were a good citizen and solid placeholder on the fourth-line, but this wasn’t meant to be a long-term relationship. We’ve got young centres like David Gustafsson and Cole Perfetti pushing for work. Thanks for your service.”
To Trevor Lewis: “One of the best thing I can say is that I never worried much when you were on the ice. Solid, responsible play in your own end, some solid contributions on the penalty kill and your years of experience were all valuable. But like I just told Nate, your linemate, we’re going to go in a different direction here, especially with wingers such as Kristian Vesalainen and Jansen Harkins waiting for more of a shot.”
To Josh Morrissey: “It was an up-and-down season, that’s for sure. And just when you were starting to look comfortable here in the playoffs — sorry about waiting so long to move Dylan DeMelo up with you, by the way — he goes and gets hurt. We’re probably going to go back to that next year. It seems like the best fit, doesn’t it? And hey, maybe Chevy will throw you guys a bone and go out and find another top-end guy to lighten the load. Fingers-crossed.”
To Neal Pionk: “Where would we have been without you? Putting up big points, throwing huge hits — you did a bit of everything. You’re probably going to take us to the cleaners on your next contract this summer as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, but you will have earned every penny. Boy, that Trouba trade worked out pretty well for us, didn’t it?”
To Derek Forbort: “You were everything we’d hoped for, and then some. I probably played you too much, at times, and it started to show as the season wore on. With young guys like Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg waiting in the wings, it’s probably best we move on given your UFA status. But you definitely made an impact.”
To Dylan DeMelo: “From coach’s porn to the third-pairing, seemingly in the blink of an eye. My bad. But you definitely were playing your best hockey of the year when you got injured just 29 seconds into Game 1 against Montreal, and no question that hurt us dearly. Let’s build off that going forward.”
To Tucker Poolman: “You’re a solid third-pairing guy on this team. Unfortunately, I often had you miscast on the top-pair, which probably wasn’t fair to you. As a pending UFA, I’m not sure what’s in the cards, but I’d welcome you back in a more sheltered role.”
To Logan Stanley: “Sniper! Seriously, what’s your secret? Nobody else could score on Price, and you made it look so easy. No question the biggest surprise of the season — I mean that figuratively and literally — and I’m excited to see where we can take this. Considering we likely can only protect Morrissey, Pionk and DeMelo pending some kind of side deal, I just hope it isn’t to Seattle.”
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.