Mark Scheifele sure sounds like a guy who’s got one foot out the door and is ready, willing and eager for a change of scenery.

Mark Scheifele sure sounds like a guy who’s got one foot out the door and is ready, willing and eager for a change of scenery.

The first-ever Winnipeg Jets 2.0 draft pick fired off a few verbal grenades on Sunday, mere moments after a disappointing year for his club came to a merciful end. The 28-year-old, who is still under contract for two more seasons, was using the type of language typically reserved for unrestricted free agents who can choose their next destination. And he made it clear that the annual end-of-the-year one-on-one with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff on Monday could be a most uncomfortable, and perhaps newsworthy, affair.

"I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me," said the clearly disgruntled centre, who missed the final nine games with an apparent shoulder injury suffered in early April. "Those are going to be…talks with my agents and everyone in my family and stuff like that and figure out what I really want. So, it will be a tough talk (Monday with Cheveldayoff)."

Scheifele, who had 70 points (29 goals, 41 assists) in 67 games, was asked about a potential offseason move. The only way that could happen between now and the summer of 2024 would be via a trade. Rather than pour cold water over the notion, he essentially lit a match.

"I obviously think there’s a lot of big questions to be asked this off-season about where the team’s going and what’s all going to happen," said Scheifele.

"I just have to know, I just have to understand where this team is going. I’m in the prime of my career. I still have so much to improve on too and I like where my game is at. I like the physical nature that my body is at. I’m only improving, I’m only getting better and I’m only going to be a better player next year than I was this year. I just have to know where this team is going and what the direction is and what the changes are going to be, if any."

Safe to say a potentially turbulent off-season around here has already taken flight.

Scheifele’s play, especially in the defensive end of the ice, was a major source of discussion around here all year. There were many nights when he appeared, quite frankly, disinterested — which is a major problem when you’re among the team’s most important players, especially in a campaign when you collectively underachieved.

Interim coach Dave Lowry only added to the speculation when asked about Scheifele’s comments.

"I think the biggest thing coming out of what Mark said is that he is going to have to have his meeting and he is going to have to go through the process and then, he’s going to have to make a decision," said Lowry. "That’s not something that I am going to control."

Lowry didn’t say what kind of "decision" Scheifele must make. Is it whether to demand a trade? Is it to commit to a better two-way game? The plot thickens. Cheveldayoff, by the way, will meet with the media on Monday afternoon after he completes his player chats.

There’s been no shortage of frustration emerging from the Jets locker room over the past couple weeks, as players basically air their feelings about a once-promising season that began with a 9-3-3 run to the top of the Central Division by mid-November, then took a dramatic turn south and included the resignation of coach Paul Maurice and ultimately finishing eight points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with a 39-32-11 record that included four straight meaningless wins in this final week on home ice.

“We’ve got to be held accountable ‐ whether it’s player on player ‐ and we’ve got to have more respect for each other. When you don’t have that, when you don’t care about the teammate next to you ‐ potentially ‐ and you just care about what you’re doing or certain individual things, that starts bleeding into the game." ‐ Paul Stastny

"We’ve got to be held accountable — whether it’s player on player — and we’ve got to have more respect for each other," veteran Paul Stastny said Sunday, tossing a bit of an internal bomb of his own. "When you don’t have that, when you don’t care about the teammate next to you — potentially — and you just care about what you’re doing or certain individual things, that starts bleeding into the game."

Stastny then praised Vancouver’s interim coach, Bruce Boudreau, for doing just that recently, calling out an underperforming player publicly. And he also did the same on Calgary’s Darryl Sutter.

"All it takes is one time to get embarrassed. Everyone hates it — and it’s happened to us, whether it’s in juniors, or college, or professional — and you learn from that mistake. But that’s what needs to happen," Stastny said in what wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the current situation in Winnipeg.

"We’ll see how guys react and respond. And I think it’s always a good learning experience for everyone and hopefully they take that pill, learn from it in the summer, and make adjustments and realize you don’t want to be in this position. It stinks. Especially (Monday) when you’re watching playoffs and you see how electric the atmosphere is and the fans are and you just wish that you were there but you’re not."

Captain Blake Wheeler joined the fray as well, suggesting a long off-season of soul-searching is now underway.

"I don’t think there is anyone that can be very proud of their performance this year. Collectively, as a group, we weren’t able to figure it out," he said. "I said all year, and I still believe this, there is a good hockey team in there. The onus is on us as players. At the end of the day it’s our responsibility to continue to trend in the direction we’ve been trending. We took a step back this year."

Wheeler suggested his club never seemed to recover from the shock of Maurice’s sudden resignation.

"I can’t speak to what would have happened if Paul would have stuck around. It’s another one to add to the list of what ifs," he said.

"When your coach packs up and leaves halfway through the season, it’s certainly a jolt to the group. Like I alluded to at the time, it’s not the kind of jolt that he’d lost the room, we weren’t responding to his message, or we were counting down the days until he was leaving, it was one of those things that hit deep for a lot of guys. Whether that completely derailed our season or not, I’m not sure. It was something that was a shock to the system for sure."

And Wheeler made it clear this is an all-important offseason for the future of the franchise. He, too, is under contract for two more season.

"We can no longer call ourselves contenders," said Wheeler.

"I think we are one of those teams that is a fringe playoff team now. It’s up to everyone involved to look in the mirror and say, ‘Why? Why did we get to where we’re at?’ Like I said, first and foremost, it’s our responsibility as players to bring that type, that quality of play to the ice that we have a chance to contend and compete for a championship."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

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.