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After the wheels fell off, Wheeler looks in the mirror

He may lead the Jets in points, but he's the first to shoulder blame for team's woes

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/3/2016 (1401 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The tone was familiar, as was the message. Blake Wheeler has been here before with the Winnipeg Jets — on the outside looking in as the Stanley Cup playoffs near — and it’s not a happy place for the veteran winger.

Wheeler was holding court with the media after Tuesday’s morning skate and, as per usual, was honest with his feelings and the role he’ll play, he hopes, in turning this thing around.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Files</p><p>Blake Wheeler isn't satisfied being the top scorer on a bottom team. He wants to go deep, and soon, into the playoffs.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Files

Blake Wheeler isn't satisfied being the top scorer on a bottom team. He wants to go deep, and soon, into the playoffs.

But that’s down the road. In there here and now, what’s happening with the Jets stings. Big time.

"This has been four of five years (without the playoffs)," Wheeler said. "It feels like the worst year of my career, to be honest.

"I came into this year coming off the playoff run just so excited. I think we all were. It’s still fresh in your memory thinking what you were doing this time last year. I remember we were going to Minnesota, we were going to St. Louis for games back to back that we had to win and we won them both. You can’t replace that with having points and career years. That’s what it’s all about.

"Four of five years here we’ve been through this. Last year, we were really in the thick of it and competing for a playoff spot but, other than that, we’ve been planning vacations pretty early. It’s not something you want to get comfortable doing."

Wheeler’s comments came in a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday about where the Jets are currently — second-last overall heading into the game against the Vancouver Canucks and icing a lineup, due to injuries and the trade of Andrew Ladd, that features enough fresh faces it feels like training camp.

He worked on a line against the Canucks that featured Mark Scheifele at centre and rookie Nic Petan at left wing. By Thursday, when the Los Angeles Kings are in town, he could be lining up again with Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers if he gets the green light to return from his eye injury.

But while the new blood can breathe life into a room dealing with the frustration of the whole season, it doesn’t necessarily make everything sunshine and rainbows for a veteran who sees another campaign flushed.

"I’m not going to pretend that this is an easy situation at all," Wheeler said. "I’m also not going to pretend that I’m not a part of what’s been the problem.

"The more people we have that can look themselves in the mirror and try to figure out what they can do better and how they get help us get us to where we need to be, the better we’ll be. That being said, every game I’m trying to prove myself, trying to prove that I can be one of those guys to get us over the hump.

"To me, they all matter. Outside of my family, this is what I love doing the most. I cherish every opportunity to go out there and compete."

Now, when it was suggested that he might not consider himself part of the problem given he leads the team in scoring and is inching toward matching his career-best point total of 69, set two years ago, Wheeler balked.

"It’s a team sport. There’s a lot of stalls in this dressing room, there’s a lot of seats in the office, there’s a lot of people that impact when we have success," he said. "Guys share in the joy of that and when we’re on the opposite end of it, where we are now, you’ve got to start by start by pointing thumbs and looking in the mirror.

...There’ll be some soul-searching on my end, for sure, to try and figure that out."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

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