2018-2019



Jets absent from world hockey championship rosters.
8 2019 . Winnipeg Sun. McIntyre, Mike

Theres no question the Winnipeg Jets wish they were still playing hockey right now. A first-round playoff exit at the hands of the St. Louis Blues wasnt exactly how they drew things up.

And yet, when presented with a golden opportunity to extend the season not to mention perhaps get some of the sour taste out of their mouths multiple members of the team curiously took a pass.

The world hockey championship kicks off Friday, and you wont find a single member of the Jets on any rosters of the 16 countries that will face off in the annual spring tournament. (Marko Dano of the Manitoba Moose will play for host Slovakia, while free-agent defenceman Bogdan Kiselevich, who never played a game with the Jets after being acquired at the February trade deadline, will suit up for Russia).

By my count, there are 107 active NHL players who will be playing in the event, coming almost entirely from the 15 teams that missed the playoffs and eight that were knocked out in the opening round. That includes some of the biggest names in the game, including Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Leon Draisaitl, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Elias Pettersson and Henrik Lundqvist.

Considering the Jets have a deep pool of talent that would likely excel on the big ice and an international stage, you would think theyd be well-represented. So what gives?

A few players have built-in excuses.

Patrik Laine was battling back and groin injuries late in the season and opted to rest and recover rather than suit up for Finland.

Same goes for Nikolaj Ehlers, who suffered a leg fracture during Game 5 of the Jets first-round loss against the St. Louis Blues. Although he managed to dress for Game 6, it was serious enough to keep him from joining Denmark.

Josh Morrissey would have been a great addition to the blueline for Canada, but he was still dealing with a major shoulder injury (separation) that sidelined him for the final six weeks of the regular season. While he made it back for the playoffs, he clearly wasnt playing at 100 per cent. It makes sense to skip the event.

As for everyone else, your guess is as good as mine.

Mark Scheifele simply shook his head to the negative when asked if he was going to play for Canada at the Jets season-ending media session on April 22. Theres no indication of an injury, although perhaps he was keeping it hidden. The 26-year-old clearly wasnt the same player down the stretch, and Ive already spilled plenty of ink over the last couple of weeks trying to get a sense of what was up with the teams No. 1 centre.

Tavares jumped at the offer once his Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated, and he and Scheifele would have given Canada a powerful one-two punch down the middle, while joining other stars such as Mark Stone (Vegas Golden Knights) and Sean Couturier (Philadelphia Flyers).

How about captain Blake Wheeler, who also declined but didnt give a reason? No doubt the 32-year-old would have been a key addition to a United States squad that includes stars such as Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), Eichel (Buffalo Sabres) and Kane (Chicago Blackhawks).

Defenceman Jacob Trouba and forward Kyle Connor would be obvious boosts to the U.S. roster, yet are absent. In their cases, I suspect their status as pending restricted free agents played a role. An agent probably wouldnt want his client going overseas to play and risk injury with contract negotiations looming. Fair enough.

What about goaltender Connor Hellebuyck? Id love to give you an answer, but he didnt make an appearance during so-called garbage bag day down at Bell MTS Place for us to ask him. He would have been a major upgrade over U.S. netminders Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils) and Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks).

Same goes for fellow American Dustin Byfuglien, who bolted from the rink before he could be called to the podium to meet the media. A squad that has defencemen such as Brady Skjei (New York Rangers), Christian Wolanin (Ottawa Senators), Alec Martinez (Los Angeles Kings), Quinn Hughes (Canucks) and Adam Fox (yet to play an NHL game coming out of Harvard) surely could have made room for Big Buff, had he been willing.

Thats at least nine members of the Jets who would have been obvious candidates to play in the worlds: three of them (Laine, Ehlers and Morrissey) have injuries; two others (Trouba and Connor) have contract issues that may have factored in; and the other four (Scheifele, Wheeler, Byfuglien and Hellebuyck) have big question marks beside their names.

All of which takes me back to a point Ive made a few times now: this years team, especially in the last couple of the months of the season, was not having a lot of fun.

Is it any surprise, then, that key members of a club that came up well short of expectations inthe playoffs were looking for the nearest exit as soon as the season ended?

I get there was bitter disappointment, but find me a single player at the worlds who is happy to have not qualified for the playoffs or got bounced quickly. It didnt stop any of them from representing their country.

Its worth noting several current Jets have played in the event in the past, including Scheifele (2014, 16, 17), Trouba (2013, 14, 17), Hellebuyck (2014, 15, 17), Connor (2016), Ehlers (2016), Morrissey (2017), Andrew Copp (2017) and Tyler Myers (2014 while a member of the Sabres). Ondrej Pavelec, Olli Jokinen, Alex Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane also played while they were Jets, which makes this years shutout all the more puzzling, and in my view, just more evidence of the sour mood surrounding this team by the end.

I cant help but think of that bunch of jerks in Carolina who have advanced to the Eastern Conference final after upsetting the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders. Is there a group of pro athletes having more fun than the Hurricanes are at the moment?

At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink.

From Storm Surges, the teams cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, its obvious theyve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward.

Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season. Its just too bad nobody will be able to talk about their experience at the world hockey championship in Slovakia.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca