Following the leaders

Paul Maurice says responsibility for turning the Jets into a playoff team is much bigger than three guys with C's or A's on their chests

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It's become a common scene here in Winnipeg -- or in any market where the NHL matters -- whenever the Jets dip into a nosedive.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2014 (2960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s become a common scene here in Winnipeg — or in any market where the NHL matters — whenever the Jets dip into a nosedive.

Invariably, and predictably, the questions always arise about the ‘leadership group.’

Most of the fingers get pointed at Andrew Ladd, who has been the captain of this ship since it first sailed to Winnipeg. But any player who has also worn an ‘A’ — this season it’s Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler — have also been drawn into the discussion when things go sour.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele

Now, a funny thing about leadership and all the commentary that surrounds it, win or lose: unless you are in the room constantly — before and after games and in all those other moments — unless you are travelling with the team, sitting in the meetings with the coaches or have it on good authority from those on the inside, can anyone really evaluate the work of the captains and his alternates?

Consider: Is Dustin Brown, the Los Angeles Kings captain, a good leader because he holds teammates accountable? Or is he a good leader because he is surrounded by players like Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and the like?

Was Yvon Cournoyer an effective captain during the Montreal Canadiens’ glory days of 1976-79? And how much did it help being on a squad loaded with Hall of Famers such as Lafleur, Dryden, Robinson, Shutt, Savard, Lapointe et. al?

And how would we view Mark Messier as a captain with his guaranteed win in the 1994 Eastern Conference final — backed up by scoring a hat trick — if the New York Rangers had fallen flat in that game? Would his last stint wearing the ‘C’, his days in Vancouver after Trevor Linden had been stripped of the letter, frame how his captaincies are remembered?

All of which brings us back to the Jets and what has already unfolded this week. The fallout from Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames was significant. There was chatter about accountability and resiliency, and a clearly frustrated head coach Paul Maurice, even spit out the F-word with cameras rolling and the microphones live.

And then a night later, with the vice squeezing tighter, Ladd scored the first goal for the Jets in a 3-1 win over Carolina and led the team with six shots. This is the same Ladd who is tied with injured teammate Evander Kane for game-winning goals over the last three-plus seasons, but is also front and centre of a group that has yet to qualify for the playoffs.

Interestingly, it was earlier in this week when Maurice was asked a simple question by my colleague Gary Lawless: Who does this team take its cues from? And without hesitation, the coach answered: “Me.”

And when Maurice was asked who the team follows at the player level, he began a discourse on leadership — and in a generalization that really applies to the Jets — how it must come from everybody, at different times and at different levels, in the room.

“So, we’ll say the leadership of the group,” said Maurice, answering who the team follows from a player perspective. “And one of our challenges is understanding it’s not one man. It’s not two or three guys, the C’s and the A’s. It has to go so far beyond that to the point that the least-invested person in your room feels like he’s a part of it.

“That’s the leadership of the group that has to be developed and it has to be developed almost every game when you get a new group coming in, new roles, new style of play, the demands on their bodies.”

John Woods / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files John Woods / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Maurice also said the team’s emerging young stars — players like Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Adam Lowry — shouldn’t be shy in playing a role in all this. In fact, it’s critical they get involved and be heard.

“(Scheifele’s) at that stage (of taking on more leadership),” said Maurice. “Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry… so when you walk in that room, that’s our team. We wait six years before they feel comfortable to speak? That doesn’t work.

“We need everybody to feel they are a critical piece because if you don’t, then we’re going to sit and talk about the three captains all week. That’s not how a room’s built. It’s quite a bit bigger than two or three guys.”

Ultimately, every coach wants the room to push itself and not to have to repeatedly crack the whip.

That’s what Claude Noel wanted before he was fired and it’s what Maurice has preached repeatedly since replacing him. And until things change in these parts with a transformation into a playoff team — rightly or wrongly — those who wear the letters will always be under the microscope.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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