“It’s not fun. It’s definitely not a great feeling. You feel pretty helpless when your team’s out there battling and you’re watching from the stands," he told reporters during Wednesday's media availability after the Jets were swept by the Montreal Canadiens. "But the way you handle setbacks is what defines us. So, that’s the mentality I’m taking.”
While last year it was an injury that forced Scheifele out of the Jets’ qualifying-round series against the Calgary Flames in Game 1, this year it was his own actions that took him out of play. Scheifele was issued a four-game suspension for charging Canadiens forward Jake Evans in the series-opener of Round 2. Evans had to be stretchered off and was diagnosed with a concussion.
"I thought I was going to be tried to be shut down by Phillip Danault. Instead it was the Department of Player Safety that shut me down. So that definitely sucks," Scheifele said of the suspension on Wednesday.
This is the second time Scheifele has publicly addressed the suspension, having spoken to reporters following the league's decision last week.
“I think at the end of the day, you regret the outcome of it. I said that over and over. You never want to see a guy hurt, and I’m a guy that respects this game and respects players," he said Wednesday, repeating his stance that he was trying to negate a goal when he hit Evans.
“I would’ve loved an answer from [the department of player safety] of what would’ve been a better thing to do. I’ve replayed the thing over and over in my mind and the only real thing is if I gave up on my teammates on that play and just didn’t back check,” he said.
Scheifele reiterated his stance that he still believes the suspension was “excessive.”
“They knocked me out of the series," he said. "I didn’t even get a chance to play with my teammates and battle with my teammates in the series ... I’m gonna stop talking before I get fined or something like that.”
Hellebuyck: We’re very close to being able to make runs and being a dynasty.”
The Jets have been considered a contender the past few seasons now, and Hellebuyck has always made clear his will to win it all. He reiterated that on Wednesday when asked about the club’s mindset.
“You want to win, and I think having the conversations I’ve had now, I think they do want to win and they want to win now,” Hellebuyck said of the Jets, adding that he believes every team should have that all-in will to win every single season. “They’re looking for the right pieces. My mindset is now, and next year I’m gonna say the same thing. You also don’t want to blow it for future years, so you want to be smart about it, but I think our organization definitely wants it now and they’re gonna do what they have to do.”
He later added: “We’re close. We’re very close to being able to make runs and being a dynasty.”
Wheeler talks expectations of 2018 vs. 2021 and beyond
A lot can change in three years, and that includes the Jets’ identity. The 2018 edition of the Jets was one built more on a foundation of defence thanks to a group of veteran blue liners and an elite netminder, while this year it’s a strong, deep offence (and continued elite goaltending) that propelled the club into the playoffs. All along, the same core group of forwards has (mostly) remained, and captain Blake Wheeler believes it's just now hitting its prime.
“Our core was still very young. What you’d consider the core of our team, outside of myself probably, was very, very young," Wheeler, 34, said of that 2018 roster. "And that core is now, I mean, they’re maturing into men in the primes of their career.”
Among the core group of players under contract for at least the next three seasons are Wheeler, whose deal will expire following 2023-24; Mark Scheifele, 28; Kyle Connor, 24; Nikolaj Ehlers, 25; Adam Lowry, 28; Josh Morrissey, 26; and Hellebuyck, 28.
The 2017-18 post-season brought Winnipeg’s best shot at winning to date, with the club advancing to the Western Conference Final where they lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights. One year later, the team finished second in the Central for the second consecutive time, with its Cup hopes cut short after losing in six games to the eventual champion St. Louis Blues.
“Those two years, the back-to-back years, those were probably very real chances to win it all,” Wheeler reflected. “I think our team this year, we have a lot of the makings of what it takes to win it all. I’m excited about the direction that we’re headed, I think there’s a lot to look forward to for our group.”
Wheeler continued: "The hardest part is formulating a core group of players that you believe are kind of the identity of your team and the guys that can push you over the hump — and I think we have that. That’s a great step in the right direction … that’s a group you can get really excited about.
“Now, it’s just supplementing," he said. "And in a flat-cap world, that’s gonna be Kevin [Cheveldayoff]’s challenge this summer, is ‘How do you fit the pieces in to kind of push that core over the top?' And I guess that’s what remains to be seen.”
Copp, Pionk, Stastny address upcoming contract negotiations
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has a busy summer ahead, with a trio of crucial restricted free agents in defencemen Neal Pionk and Logan Stanley, and versatile forward Andrew Copp due new deals.
On the UFA front, veteran forwards Paul Stastny, Mathieu Perrault, Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis will all have decisions ahead of them. Asked about their impending contract talks, here's what some of them said Wednesday:
Andrew Copp, RFA: “Those conversations — where they see me moving forward here and the direction of the team, what we’re gonna do to make us better — are the two biggest things for me. I wouldn’t say anything’s off the table at this point, and I’m sure with everything kind of happening sooner rather than later that that will get addressed pretty quickly.”
Copp went through the arbitration process two summers ago with the Jets, and said Wednesday that the experience of 2019 won’t impact this off-season's negotiations.
Paul Stastny, UFA: “I’m older, I think options are probably more limited.”
Stastny, 35, said he was open to a return to the Jets but indicated he won’t be rushing into any decisions.
“I think with the expansion draft and everything that’s going on, I’m pretty sure teams are gonna be busy trying to figure that stuff out."
He also made clear that what’s best for his family will factor heavily into any decisions made.
“We’ll be patient about it. No rush. I kind of have an idea of what places you wanna play at but you wanna do what’s a good fit for you and you wanna go somewhere where you’re wanted, too," he said. "I have nothing but good things to say here, and I know the future has always been bright, it continues to be bright. There’s always gonna be a chance here and I think that’s a really important piece to picking a team you wanna play at."
Players throw support behind Paul Maurice
Jets head coach Paul Maurice joined the team in January 2014 and is currently the second longest-tenured bench boss in the league behind Jon Cooper, who’s led Tampa Bay since March 2013.
Said Wheeler: "I've been on teams where the coach has lost the team and the message isn't received. But that has just never happened with Paul."
For Ehlers, Maurice is the only NHL head coach he’s ever known.
“He’s been the coach since I came in. It’s very unusual, even in Europe, to have the same coach for that long. But it just shows what kind of coach and what kind of guy Paul is,” he said. “I think everyone on the team is very happy with the way he coaches us — and not just the on-ice stuff, but the off-ice stuff, too. He’s a guy you can go talk to when something’s up and there’s always something with the on-ice stuff that he’s got for you, whether it’s good or bad. And that goes for the whole coaching staff. They’re great at finding small things that they can help you with, whether they do video or it’s on ice, they pull you aside. I think that’s been huge for me, to work on small details of the game. That’s been great.”