Heading into the 2021-22 season, everyone knew Blake Wheeler was on the back nine of his career. This season was especially hard on the Jets’ captain, who lost 17 games due to knee injury and upper-body injuries along with COVID-19.
Even though Wheeler missed a ton of time, he showed at 35-years-old that his playing days at the NHL level aren’t finished just yet. It’s going to take more than what he encountered during this past season to force him to call it quits.
Granted, there was plenty of discussion surrounding Winnipeg’s locker-room culture and whether or not the veteran forward had lost his touch. It remains to be seen if he was one of the main culprits behind those struggles. Nonetheless, it remains a very interesting situation to monitor moving forward.
To recap, let’s dive deep into Wheeler’s performance from the 2021-22 season.
On the season, Wheeler finished with the fourth-highest time on ice per game among all Jets forwards, averaging 19:32 minutes. 2021-22 All-Star Kyle Connor led the team in this regard, receiving 21:47 minutes of ice-time per night.
Winnipeg’s captain finished just shy of serving as a point per game player once again, averaging .92 points per contest this season. In total, he scored 17 goals and 43 assists for 60 points in 65 games, which ranked tied for third-best on the team with Pierre-Luc Dubois. Not too shabby. The 6’5″ forward scored the most points amongst players who were born in 1986.
How could I fail to mention this sweet shootout winner from Wheeler on Mar. 30th against the Sabres? It was a beauty.
Blake James Wheeler… 🥶 pic.twitter.com/7fOXCgkDwE
— NHL (@NHL) March 31, 2022
Despite recording a brutal -15 rating, Wheeler surprisingly posted a 54.32 per cent Fenwick For Percentage and a 55.23 per cent Corsi For Percentage during all strengths, according to www.naturalstattrick.com. Both metrics were slightly improved from last season’s percentages.
Across the final four games of the season, we saw a fun trio of Wheeler, Nikolaj Ehlers and Paul Stastny. It looked like the three men who were worn down from a disappointing season were having fun scoring six goals and six assists while playing in a top-six role.
If Stastny returns to the Jets, that combination could be a solid line to watch through the early part of the next season.
Wheeler didn’t score his first goal until his 22nd game of the season, which came against the Vancouver Canucks. That was the same game where he suffered his significant knee injury.
Overall, Wheeler’s shooting percentage took a notable slide this past season, dropping from 13.27 per cent in 2020-21 down to 10.18 per cent. His goals per game also decreased, sliding from .3 goals per game to .26 in 2021-22.
Looking at Wheeler’s power-play production, it didn’t fare overly well, either. In particular, he was on the ice for seven of the eight shorthanded goals against. Not ideal, to say the least.
Finally, I have to mention Wheeler’s captaincy and leadership from this past season. It’s been bad, like really bad. Multiple players said there wasn’t any leadership in the room, others pointed to a lack of culture. Not even a players-only meeting from earlier in the season could resolve the dire situation.
It speaks volumes that Wheeler has likely lost his voice in the Jets’ locker room. If that were to have changed, perhaps this team would’ve made the playoffs rather than having their season end prematurely.
Depending on who’s hired as Winnipeg’s next head coach, Wheeler probably needs to be relocated to the bottom six. It may also be time to consider removing the ‘C’ from his chest.
His time as one of the top skaters on the team ended a few seasons ago, and it’s time the coaching staff realized that. They’ve been avoiding this tough conversation for long enough. Of course, none of this will matter if he’s ultimately traded over the off-season.
Either way, these next 12 months are sure to be extremely interesting for Wheeler and the Jets.
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