Jets make the best choice available for new captain
There was talk of Dustin Byfuglien. And rightfully so, there is very little argument amongst those in the know that the Winnipeg Jets are Byfuglien’s team. He is the guy this team looks to in and outside the dressing room. But Dustin Byfuglien as captain just wouldn’t be the right fit, and as much as he says the role would be an honour, he likely wasn’t thrilled about the idea of wearing the C on his jersey.
There was also talk of Mark Scheifele. The Winnipeg Jets 2.0 first-ever draft pick has lived up to every expectation placed on him since his somewhat surprise pick number seven overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Scheifele is on the verge of becoming a bonafide number one centre in the NHL, a height that some critics never thought he’d reach. He just signed a long-term, mega-millions contract that will keep him in Jets colours for nearly a decade. He has become one of the most outspoken players in the dressing room, always chatting it up with anyone nearby. This could very well be his team in a few years, but he’s not there quite yet, especially not with the prime alternative in the room.
There was talk Tuesday or Patrik Laine or Tyler Myers possibly being considered, but that was from someone at Fansided who clearly knows as much about the Winnipeg Jets as most New York Jets fans.
Truly, in the search for the Jets next captain, there really was no other choice but Blake Wheeler. At 30 years old (as of August 31), Wheeler is one of the elder statesman on the team, but who is right now in the very prime of his career as his last two, heck even the last four wildly successful, and impressive seasons have shown.
He has been the best Jet on the ice many nights, and was among the league’s top 10 scorers last season – the first time for him, or any Winnipeg Jet. He is arguably the team’s best player, battling the other Minnesota-native giant, Byfuglien, for the title.
But, it is off the ice where it is easy to see why Wheeler was the perfect choice for the captain’s role.
Firstly, some of the best leaders anywhere came from first being tremendous followers and supporters of their leaders. Nobody in the Winnipeg dressing room had former captain Andrew Ladd’s back more than Wheeler did. Wheels took on many of the roles of captain without actually wearing the C.
His work ethic is always at 100 per cent. His motor is always running and that is a trait of many great leaders. He has never dodged the media. He has always worn his heart on his sleeve and spoken his mind, often with pretty direct answers, and not just superficial cliches that many athletes are programmed to churn out. He has called out his teammates, and himself, effort and performance has not measured up, and more than once (most recently last January while the team slumped — Blake Wheeler challenges teammates
He also delicately tried to push Evander Kane before the whole Kane situation completely fell apart. He expressed the sentiment that many Jets fans, and now many hockey fans across the league have always shared. If the guy ever really got his head in order he could be a pretty big star in this league.
“He’s coming to the stage of his career where he’s no longer a young guy. He needs to step up and be a leader on our team,” Wheeler told ESPN before the start of the 2014 season. Kane responded by Twitter with a good-natured barb, which of course ignited a controversy in the fishbowl of being a Jet in Winnipeg.
Wheeler took Kane’s tweet as intended, suggested Winnipeg fans and media needed to cut Kane a break, but maintained his original position:
“He’s a player that has the capability of getting us to that next level,” Wheeler told Global News adding that the whole team needed to step it up.
“This is a conversation that has been had among everyone,” said Wheeler. “There’s a lot of guys who have to step up this year, myself included.”
Ultimately, the Wheeler comments and the storm that followed was some foreshadowing as Kane was gone before the season was over. And when it was clear that Kane wasn’t on the same page as the rest of his Winnipeg teammates, Wheeler didn’t hesitate to speak on that either:
“There’s a standard that everyone needs to live up to,” Blake Wheeler said soon after showergate broke. “We’re professionals, we make a lot of money. And we’re expected to uphold a certain standard. That’s the code we live by. That’s just the way it is.
“If you don’t like it then there’s other places to go. This is the way we do things.”
And there isn’t a player on the Jets who outwardly hates losing more than Wheeler does. He wears his heart on his sleeve and you can see the pain when this team is struggling.
Scheifele will almost undoubtedly be the next captain of this team. He’s learned leadership from the likes of former Jets captain Dale Hawerchuk who coached him with the Barrie Colts. He learned even more playing alongside former Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who undoubtedly had a heavy influence on the young man.
And now, he will learn from the current Jets captain as he plays alongside while wearing the A and taking an expanded leadership role of his own.
But for now, Wheeler wears the C and there really just wasn’t any other choice at this point in the short history of the Winnipeg Jets. It will be a huge storyline this season to watch how Wheeler handles the weight of the C, and how he builds off of two straight career years.
It will also be compelling to watch just how this team follows him. It will be a huge surprise if each and every one doesn’t squarely fall in line.