AS I SEE IT COLUMN: What’s wrong with the Jets?


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After half a season of playing really good hockey and looking like a team that could compete – and even beat – pretty much any team in the league, the Jets now look like a team where something is very wrong.

With the playoffs just around the corner and their post-season lives hanging in the balance, it is a decidedly bad time of the season to be playing bad, uninspired hockey.

I have gone full circle in thinking about what it is, exactly, that ails the Jets.

Initially I thought something was seriously wrong with the players. Why else would then coach Paul Maurice quit coaching midway through a season? I’ve covered a lot of sports over the years and cannot recall a coach – in any of North America’s four major league sports leagues – abruptly quitting in the middle of a season.

That must have been an indication that something was seriously wrong with the team, that perhaps there was the proverbial “cancer in the dressing room.” Why else would Maurice just up and quit? And what was going on in the dressing room that Patrik Laine, Dustin Byfuglein and others wanted out so badly?

So when new coach Rick Bowness arrived at the beginning of the season and had the Jets playing a brisk, crisp style of hockey I changed my mind: the problem must have been with Maurice, not the players, because the very same players are still with the team and they’re playing a much more inspired brand of hockey.

The team didn’t start playing better hockey after trading away a marquee player or getting rid of a toxic “problem” player. They had the exact same roster with the same players in the same dressing room, but now Bowness had them playing better hockey so the problem must have been coach Maurice. What else could it be?

But now, after several weeks of those same players reverting back to their old habits of not working very hard and not appearing to care very much, it’s making me think that the issue wasn’t with Maurice and isn’t with Bowness; it’s the players.

Hockey fans in Manitoba know their stuff. Yes, we’d all like a winner but we’ll settle for a team that works hard every game. As long as they give it their all, we can handle losing.

But losing games with lacklustre performance after lacklustre performance – at the most inopportune time of the year – leads me to believe that whatever issues or players inside the Jets dressing room that were preventing the team from playing at their top level in previous seasons, have somehow resurfaced.

Bowness was able to pull off some magic and somehow able to get players to put aside whatever respective issues they had and play for a common cause, but that seems to have disappeared, gone in a magician’s puff of smoke.

Here’s why I’m back to believing the problem rests with the players: if you truly like your teammates you will play your heart out for them. Effort has nothing to do with skill, it has to do with emotion and team chemistry.

If you don’t like your winger or some teammates, the motivation to work really hard goes away. Somehow coach Bowness got the players to believe in the team but that doesn’t seem to be working anymore.

The Jets are losing way too many games to weaker teams they simply have to beat if they want to be a real playoff contender. And they’re not just losing; they are losing “ugly.” The intensity isn’t there, the work ethic isn’t there and it sure seems like the team chemistry is, yet again, no longer there.

The Jets are quickly running out of time. If they don’t start playing better, playing like a team where guys would chew through plexi-glass for each other, what started out as a very promising season could end in a disaster.

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