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ANALYSIS: Will Scheifele play another game for the Jets?

Click to play video: 'RAW: Winnipeg Jets Mark Scheifele Interview – May 1' RAW: Winnipeg Jets Mark Scheifele Interview – May 1
Jets forward Mark Scheifele met with reporters following Sunday's 4-3 season-ending win over Seattle – May 1, 2022

Mark Scheifele didn’t leave much open to interpretation. His priorities came through crystal clear.

As the Winnipeg Jets centre spoke to reporters on Sunday for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury on April 10, he was extremely candid in terms of what he needed to hear in his exit meeting with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

While many of those words were of a personal nature, it was what he didn’t say that also garnered plenty of attention.

One of the troubling things was that in the eight questions that he answered at the podium, there was a prime opportunity for Scheifele — who is one of the team’s alternate captains — to show some accountability like many teammates did before him during the lengthy autopsy of this lost season and provide some thoughts on what he thought the Jets needed to do in order to get things turned around.

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Instead, Scheifele chose to use the forum to declare how happy he is with his own game (though he did mention there was room for improvement), how he’s currently in the prime of his career at 29, and to wonder what the Jets might be able to tell him about their vision for next season and beyond.

It’s not surprising that Scheifele would be concerned about his future, which includes two more seasons on a team-friendly contract that carries an average annual value of $6.125 million.

After all, this season marked the third consecutive campaign in which Scheifele’s season ended prematurely.

This year, it was the shoulder injury after taking a jarring hit from Ottawa Senators forward Parker Kelly that knocked Scheifele out of the final nine games of the regular season.

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Last season, it was the four-game suspension for charging after delivering a hit that left Jake Evans with a concussion that knocked him out of the second-round series with the Montreal Canadiens.

The year before that, Scheifele played only three shifts in the opening game of the qualifying round series with the Calgary Flames before he left with an ankle injury sustained after an awkward run-in with Matthew Tkachuk in the neutral zone.

“That’s hockey. You’ve got to deal with some of that stuff. That adversity, those tough times, have to make you stronger,” Scheifele said. “If you get negative about it, if you dwell on it too long, it’s only going to weigh you down.

“So, you have to reflect, you have to think about the good things, the bad things and the things you want to fix and go into the summer and come back a better person, a better player, next year. That has to be the focus.”

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Asked to try to put his finger on how things began unravelling for a Jets team that got off to a franchise-best start of 9-3-3 before finishing 39-32-11 overall and missing out on the playoffs by eight points, Scheifele found it tough to nail down.

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“I think it’s hard to really pinpoint one specific (thing). It was kind of little bad spurts that ended up being monumental things to overcome,” Scheifele said.

“It’s one of those years you look back on, and some of it’s a blur and some of it’s really clear. It’s definitely a year I’ll try to forget a little bit. It was a tough one, from a lot of things, COVID, injuries, coach leaving, a new coach coming in, all that stuff.

“Olympics, yes, I’d forgotten about that already. It’s one of those years where it sucked, it was a crappy ending. But like I said before you can’t dwell on it too long, you have to reflect and think about the good and the bad and the ugly and come back better next year.”

There’s no shortage of things to reflect on for Scheifele, who missed the season opener as he served the final game of his suspension from the 2021 playoffs, missed five games in COVID-19 protocols, then sat out those final nine games with the shoulder issue.

He also endured a rocky start to the season when he was trying to catch the attention of Team Canada, given his desire to suit up in the Olympics before NHL participation was ultimately cancelled.

Read more: Winnipeg Jets agree to terms with 2021 first-round draft pick Chaz Lucius

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Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele (55) during NHL training camp practice in Winnipeg, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Scheifele was one of the players who was hit hardest by the departure of Paul Maurice and the coaching change that followed.

“Yes, it was tough. It was tough for a lot of guys,” Scheifele said. “I think pretty much every guy, unless they came from a different team, only knew Paul. That was kind of all we knew and for that to happen before Christmas was tough, and tough on a lot of guys.

“It’s something — you can’t really prepare for it unless it actually happens. And then it happens and you kind of don’t know how to react. I think a lot of guys feel that way.”

Scheifele seemed to benefit from getting away from the game to recharge during the NHL All-Star break, as his offensive production and engagement level seemed to rise upon his return, though he never seemed to fully embrace the direction of interim head coach Dave Lowry.

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“I probably didn’t feel really like myself until after Christmas, I would say, maybe even a little after,” Scheifele said.

“I didn’t like my game early on in the year. I felt like I started to find it in the last couple of months, so I was obviously happy with that. It’s something that I can figure out what wasn’t going at the beginning and what was going towards the end. It’s something that I can learn from, I can get better from, and that’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”

Earlier this season, Scheifele saw longtime left-winger Kyle Connor move to a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and even before his injury, his most frequent linemate, Jets captain Blake Wheeler, was moved to another unit as well.

After watching former roommate Andrew Copp traded to the New York Rangers at the NHL trade deadline, it seems like Scheifele might be wondering if remaining with the Jets for the final two seasons of his eight-year, $49-million deal makes sense for him.

One of the surprising things to come out of the conversation was that Scheifele was healing well and would have been ready for the Stanley Cup playoffs, had the Jets punched their ticket to the post-season party.

Since they did not, the biggest question surrounding Scheifele now focuses on whether or not he will play another game for the franchise that chose him seventh overall in the 2011 NHL Draft.

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Jets have to reassess, goal remains to win a Stanley Cup, says Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff – May 2, 2022

Although Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose to focus on the passionate portion of Scheifele’s comments, that sounded more like damage control, though the talking point wasn’t solely about trying to maintain or enhance Scheifele’s trade value, should the Jets decide to entertain offers for him.

By producing 29 goals and 70 points in 67 games before the injury, Scheifele completed a sixth consecutive season as a point-per-game player (or better) and in a league where offence is often at a premium, there will be plenty of teams interested, despite the defensive deficiencies that need to be addressed.

As for Scheifele himself, he seemed open to a change of scenery but came short of suggesting the two sides had reached the point of no return.

Whether that was just lip service or how he genuinely feels, only Scheifele knows for sure.

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“Obviously, I love it here. It’s been the only place I know,” Scheifele said. “I obviously think there’s a lot of big questions to be asked this off-season about where the team’s going and what’s all going to happen.

“I’d love to be in Winnipeg, but I also have to see where this is all going and what direction this team is going in and I guess we’ll see this summer.”

An entire fanbase will be waiting anxiously to see how this situation resolves itself and this should be one of the biggest storylines to monitor in what figures to be the most important offseason for the Jets since relocating to Winnipeg in 2011.

Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.

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