The Winnipeg Jets’ recent swing to the Eastern Seaboard brought about more than just four consecutive losses and official elimination from the postseason, it brought out a call by some players for a change. What changes will take place remains to be seen, but when you look into what the players have been saying, it’s clear they’re looking for a move behind the bench.
The Jets just finished a four-game swing where they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes by a combined score of 20-7. These games were symbolic of the entirety of the Jets’ season. They got manhandled by Florida 6-1, shut out by the Rangers 3-0, while in Tampa Bay and Carolina they had two-goal leads in both games and then allowed their opponents to roll over them by scores of 7-4 and 4-2 respectively. Only in the game against the Rangers did the Jets manage to muster more than five shots on net in the third period.
Jets Players are Voicing Concern
When a player uses a phrase like, “not playing the right way” and “holding everyone accountable” to describe the team, it’s pretty indicative those characteristics don’t currently exist and change is needed. As of late, winger Nikolaj Ehlers wasn’t the only player questioning the psyche in the Jets’ locker room.
“That’s why we’re not in a playoff spot. We haven’t played the right way in a lot of games and you see what that leads to. I think the easy way to put it is that we’re just not playing the type of hockey that the Jets want to play and the type of hockey that, you know, you can hold everyone accountable for.”Nikolaj Ehlers (from “Jets’ gap with playoff quality teams is clear. So what does coaching have to do with it?”, The Athletic, 16/04/2022)
After the loss to the Panthers, Kyle Connor said, “… I don’t think it’s too soon to start building culture, having that right attitude in the group, so we’re going to look to build on that in the next couple of games.” When he made those comments there were six games remaining in the Jets’ season. An argument could be made that it’s too late in the campaign to be building culture, it should already be in place. The lack of motivation that Connor suggests the Jets possess, is ultimately the responsibility of the head coach.
On April 17, Paul Stastny was quoted as saying, “They (the best teams in the league) play the game the right way, they almost grind you, force you to make turnovers, and then that high-end skill kind of takes over. You know, that’s how you learn to win.” Again, a leader on the team pointing out the Jets don’t “play the right way”. Is that not a red flag that there’s an internal problem? That the problem is more than the personnel on the roster? I think it does.
After the loss to the Rangers, Pierre-Luc Dubois, an emerging leader on this team, expressed his obvious frustration during his post-game press conference. He, like the previously mentioned players, commented on how the Jets play in comparison to the top teams. He spoke about how their opponents play fast and dictate the direction of the game. He claimed the Jets have the roster to do that as well, they just aren’t. His dissatisfaction with the way they had been playing was obvious, considering how the start of the year held so much promise for this team. A team that was picked to go on a deep playoff run has been a disappointment from the get-go.
Here is the complete quote from an angry, frustrated Pierre-Luc Dubois tonight where he sings the praises of how good hockey teams play and contrasts it with what he’s seen from his #NHLJets.— Mike McIntyre (@mikemcintyrewpg) April 20, 2022
It’s candid, quality stuff from the 23-year-old, who oozes leadership qualities.#wfp pic.twitter.com/4urMV8He83
Finally, after they were officially eliminated from the playoffs, Jets’ captain Blake Wheeler said, “This year, it seemed like expectations were high and we’ve obviously fallen well short of those… It just feels like we’re back to square one.” It is worth noting that Winnipeg has a solid core of players who are in their prime and this is not a team in rebuild mode. A change behind the bench may be what is needed, rather than massive changes to the roster.
Jets’ Current Style Isn’t Working
It’s pretty obvious when players aren’t happy with their level of success, they look for something to change. When Paul Maurice resigned, the word from the front office was that interim head coach Dave Lowry was going to alter the culture of the team and their style of play. Holding players accountable and changing the culture in the room was the first order of business. If you read into what these prominent Jets have said, that hasn’t happened. According to them, they still aren’t playing “the right way” and are still waiting for that change in identity.
It’s hard to understand why with only a handful of games left to play, questions about the style of play and effort level are still an issue. Who does that fall on? Under Lowry, the Jets have not statistically improved. They were slightly above .500 when Maurice was in charge, and they are slightly above .500 under Lowry’s watch too, and if you read into the comments above, the players have noticed that as well.
Former NHL executive and current analyst Craig Button was a guest on the Illegal Curve Hockey Show in late March, and when asked about the Jets’ coaching situation was quoted as saying, “They are at the bottom of the league in just about all defensive metrics…. the coaching hasn’t been good enough”. And when it was suggested that could it be possible that the players aren’t coachable he replied with, “If your message isn’t getting through to the players, that’s a coaching issue. You better figure out how to get your message through.”
I think if you read into what Wheeler, Stastny, Ehlers, Connor and Dubois have said of late, you have to agree that the coach’s message is not getting through to the players, and the status quo won’t work moving forward. There are going to be moves in the offseason, and I think one could argue the players are looking for a coaching change. No player is saying it directly, but they are definitely saying it.
Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.