Blake Wheeler will not wear a captain’s C for jets this season


Winnipeg forward Blake Wheeler admitted that being the Jets captain had become a burden that new Jets coach Rick Bowness has now relieved him of.

The Jets announced on Friday they will go into the 2022-23 season without a captain and with a group of assistants yet to be determined.

“There’s nothing I’m more proud of in my life than (being a Jets captain) other than being a husband and a father,” Wheeler said at a news conference at the MTS Iceplex.

“Ever since I was made captain, this has gotten me out of bed every day. How can I be a better teammate, how can I be a better leader, how can I be a better player on the ice for this city and for his team and for this organization. So yeah, at a certain point that can get thin on you. I’m just incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity. That’s how I feel.

Wheeler said he was taken aback when Bowness told him the “C” would be taken from him.

“You know, I think there were some surprises,” said Wheeler, who was a team captain for six years. “After a year like that (the Jets had), the first conversation with the new coach was surprising. But I had time to let it sink in, so he gave me a little head start. I’ve had time to process it.”

Jets forward Mark Scheifele, speaking to reporters in Henderson, Nevada at the NHL/NHLPA Player Media Tour, said the news was “a shock to me.”

“Blake told me before I left just to warn me.”

said Scheifele. “I haven’t had much opportunity to actually talk to him and see how he’s feeling.

“First and foremost, I just want to be there for him. He’s a great friend of mine and a guy I’ve learned a lot from. He will still be a great leader on our team. The letters really don’t mean anything.”

Both Wheeler and Bowness declined to describe what would have been an awkward conversation.

“With a new staff, it’s a good time to change the leadership of the room,” Bowness said. “I can tell you that… I’ve been very encouraged all summer speaking to the players that this is a much tighter group than the perception of the space. That was very encouraging for me.

“You could also tell from their tone and wording that they wanted to take on more responsibility. They are all disappointed with what happened last year and now that is behind us. Now we have changes. That just involved how we do it, it’s about leading the team.”

The Jets failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, leading to much speculation about their future. This included a discussion of trading Wheeler, who has two seasons left on a five-year contract with an annual cap of $8.25 million.

“I think yeah, when you’re having a bad season, you need to have those conversations,” Wheeler, 36, said. “I’ve been here 11 years and you’d be crazy if you didn’t look in the mirror and then also look at an 11-year relationship and say, ‘Is that still in our best interests going forward?’

“Ultimately we decided it was so, so here I am.”

Wheeler said he is no longer discussing a trade opportunity with the team.

“I’m here, committed to this team and motivated to have a great season,” he said. “I’ve had a few days to process it and the feeling I got out of bed today knowing I needed to talk to you guys was just how grateful I am that I had this opportunity.

“I’m just looking forward to seeing the guys I’m mentoring step up because it’s their time now and like I said I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still do the things I would have done with the ‘C’ on my jersey. You may not be able to talk to me as much.”

Bowness said he has yet to decide how to work out a rotating deputy captain.

“That’s what it takes us 21 days and six (exhibition) games to find out,” Bowness said. “And in the end we will make the right decision.”

But a new captain will likely be named at some point.

“It will evolve naturally,” Bowness said. “We’re not the only team that won’t have a captain; that will develop.”

Wheeler took over as Jets captain prior to the 2016-17 season. He replaced Andrew Ladd, who was dealt to Chicago at the 2016 close.

The Jets qualified for the playoffs three times with Wheeler as captain and reached the Western Conference Finals in the 2017-18 season. They also appeared in the qualifying round of the 2019-20 season shortened by the pandemic but lost to Calgary in four games.

– With files of reporter Joshua Clipperton in Henderson, Nev.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 16, 2022.