The last time there was a visible locker room rift on the team, someone’s tracksuit got thrown in the shower. Now here we are several years later, with another season that ended too soon and fans left wondering what exactly happened behind closed doors.
It’s unclear when and where the rift initially began but some speculate that something was amiss as early as Christmas. Whenever it started, things seemed to have come to a head during the final throes the regular season. A closed door meeting after the Minnesota game on April 2nd, the canceled practice the next day, and a Buff sized meltdown after the loss in Colorado may have been the tipping point for defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who came barreling down the tunnel at Pepsi Center causing a ruckus.
Since then, there has been a steady stream of whispers that the team has a culture problem. Young guys versus veterans, primarily. The clash of young, eager voices against veterans unwilling to listen seems to be the most popular theory. If this wasn’t enough, rumors have been circling about a fracture between Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and the rest of the team with at least two players in leadership roles no longer talking to each other.
Finnish sports writer Pekka Jalonen had a vague comment regarding the issue on Saturday. Jalonen was the first to report the departure of Kristian Vesalainen earlier in the season (well before any other source) so it’s possible that he is in contact with the Finnish players in Winnipeg. Take it with a grain of salt of course, but it does seem to feed further into the division between Wheeler, Scheifele and the rest of the team.
#NHLJets had #StanleyCup window open but Paul Maurice closed it pretty well. Keeping 55, 26 happy didn't make a happy family. Some players wanted (and want) to be somewhere else. Sad thing is Maurice gets away with this just being fluent with the media. #StanleyCupPlayoffs2019
— Pekka Jalonen (@PekkaJalonen) April 21, 2019
Understandably, everyone around the organization was pretty quiet on the potential problems when it was brought up on Monday at the final media availability, and while the team didn’t provide any specifics there were a few statements that confirmed that there was some sort of issue this year. “We’ve got a few ruffled feathers in there that we’re going to have to flatten out before we get going,” Maurice offered. Additionally, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff mentioned briefly that he would like to have an opportunity to coordinate an open forum with players.
And it could be the honest truth when Blake Wheeler and Paul Maurice insisted that the closed door meetings and cancelled practices were just everyday team business to voice concerns and clear the air. Perhaps they were just a team frustrated by what they felt was an off year. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.
So how do you resolve a potential locker room issue? “Air everything out especially when the team’s struggling and you’re not winning. These are really positive things that every team does.” Blake Wheeler replied when the subject was broached. We can only hope that the dialog continues or at least starts to happen in the off-season. And perhaps with the time and space that summer will provide, the Jets can return to camp feeling fresh and ready to work together as a team once again.