Record: 52 – 20 – 10
The thousands of Winnipeg Jets fans who were cloaked in a deep silence at Bell MTS Place Wednesday night, fearing the worst after they watched one of the team’s best players crash hard into the boards and eventually limp to the dressing room, got the answer they were dreading on Thursday — even if it was the one they likely expected.
Less than 24 hours after a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers, Jets coach Paul Maurice was back in front of the podium to deliver the bad news. Without taking a single question, Maurice broke another silence that had been brewing, this time among the local media, by declaring his No. 1 centreman, Mark Scheifele, would miss between six to eight weeks with what the team is calling an upper-body injury.
"It’s going to be a while, we’re going to have to get used to it. In some ways that makes it easier," said Maurice. "Certainly, you don’t want him out for that amount of time but we’re not waiting for the weekend for him to come back and make all things better."
Schiefele suffered the injury midway though the second period, following a legal hit from Oilers defenceman Brandon Davidson. The momentum from the collision resulted in Scheifele drifting towards the end boards behind Edmonton’s net, where he appeared to jam his right shoulder. A stunned crowd surrounded Scheifele as he lay withering in pain, with both player benches also looking on with concern. Scheifele would eventually leave the ice under his own power, with his left hand gripping the injured shoulder.
"From what we saw last night it didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good," said Jets centre Bryan Little. "It’s never something easy to see — one of your best players on the ice like that."
Fully aware of what the situation will mean for Scheifele, a self-proclaimed hockey nerd for how much time he invests in the game, Maurice was hardly in the mood to sugar coat what was to come for his 24-year-old centreman. He was in the middle of another breakout season, currently second on the Jets in scoring, with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 38 games.
If he does end up being sidelined for the entire eight weeks, Scheifele will miss 22 games during that stretch. If he requires the minimum six weeks to recover, he’ll be out for the next 16.
"It’s going to be a real, real difficult thing for him to go through," said the Jets coach.
"It’s the mental part that... I know he will be back the day his human body is ready to be back because his diet is going to be perfect, his off-ice training is going to be perfect and he comes into the injury as a very, very fit man. So he gives himself the best chance (to recover quickly) but it’s going to be tough for him."
Scheifele has suffered longer-term injuries before, including a knee injury that forced him to miss the last 19 games of the 2013-14 season (the Jets went 7-9-3 during that stretch). He has missed 14 games over the past two seasons, but only three came during last year’s campaign.
The Jets (21-11-6), who, heading into Thursday’s set of games, were one point shy of the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division, are also sure to feel the pinch of Scheifele’s absence from the lineup. Scheifele averaged the most ice time of any Winnipeg forward, logging nearly 21 minutes per game, and was utilized in every situation. The Jets are already playing without defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom, both of whom were doing light drills ahead of practice.
To help fill the massive void left behind, Maurice will look to captain Blake Wheeler to centre the top line — a unit that will now consist of Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor on the wings.
"We’ll find out. It’s going to be tough," said Wheeler, when asked if he felt the Jets were well-equipped to get through such a shock to their lineup.
"It’s going to be one of those things where it may not look as pretty, we may not be quite as dangerous as we’re used to being but there’s still a lot of fight in our group. There’s still a lot of capable bodies in here to get the job done and that’s the key for us. We want to keep this thing afloat so when Mark comes back we’ll be even stronger for it."
Wheeler said he felt comfortable moving to centre, something he did Wednesday for the last half of the game and a few games last season when Scheifele was forced to miss time with a lower-body injury. Wheeler also played centre during his time with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and even started his NHL career there with the Boston Bruins.
Though he admitted there was likely to be a bit of an adjustment, he didn’t expect a dip in his play.
"I’m willing to do anything to help the team win and I think everyone is. We’ve had guys play out of position, had guys play hurt. That’s what this league calls for," said Wheeler. "I still intend on having an impact every time I’m on the ice, regardless of whether I’m playing centre or on the wing."
To keep the second line a scoring threat, Mathieu Perreault has been promoted from the fourth line to play with Nikolaj Ehlers, who shifts to the right wing, and Little at centre. The third line of Andrew Copp-Adam Lowry-Brandon Tanev remained intact, while Shawn Matthias and Marko Dano are expected to compete for a spot on the fourth line with centre Matt Hendricks and left-winger Joel Armia.
With Scheifele placed on injured reserve, the Jets have room on their roster to call up a player from the Manitoba Moose. That may result in Jack Roslovic, who is second in American League scoring with 15 goals and 35 points in 31 games, getting the call. Or perhaps Nic Petan, who has played 86 games with the Jets dating back to 2015-16 season, but only six this year.
Maurice seemed non-committal to that option, though, at least at this juncture, arguing there are two players in Matthias and Dano who have earned their spot in the lineup.
"We have enough good offensive players that we should be able to score enough goals. Maybe not as many with Mark out of our lineup but there’s enough offence there," said Maurice. "It’s going to be handling minutes and the defensive minutes…that’s the real challenge. I’ve got lots of confidence in our group."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 6:47 AM CST: Adds photo