Chances are if you’re a hockey fan in Winnipeg — or all of Canada for that matter — you’ve heard and watched and probably even shaken your head a few times over the events that have unfolded between the Winnipeg Jets and Evander Kane.
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The saga hit a new low on Friday when Jets coach Paul Maurice announced Kane would be undergoing surgery on his shoulder to fix a damaged labrum, ultimately ending his season with the Jets and putting his future with the organization in serious doubt.
After the news broke that teammate Dustin Byfuglien allegedly took exception with Kane wearing a tracksuit – a violation to the team’s dress code – during a meeting prior to Tuesday’s tilt against the Vancouver Canucks, many have suggested that Kane has likely played his last game in a Jets uniform.
Naturally, when players and Maurice were asked prior to Friday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks whether Kane would be welcomed back to the room if indeed he does choose to return, it wasn’t all that surprising to hear a resounding “yes.”
“Evander Kane is a Winnipeg Jet,” said Maurice.
It was the same kind of jargon being tossed around from stall to stall in the Jets locker room. Mark Stuart, an assistant captain on the team, downplayed the incident and suggested a reunion was not out of the question.
Others, such as defenceman Zach Bogosian, weren’t as forthright, instead opting to keep team matters inside.
“I’ll say it now and I’ll probably say it five more times today: What happens in the room stays in the room,” he said.
But that’s not exactly true.
The truth is word did get out, whether it was through a player or through management, or through anyone close enough to the team to access the information.
Sending a message
Let’s not be naive for a second.
This isn’t the first time a stunt like this has been pulled. Antics like the ones Kane was subjected to happen all the time, across various sports and in various leagues around the world.
What isn’t as common, however, is that the story gets out, first to the media and eventually, the public.
Not even Maurice could shift and spin his displeasure with the world knowing, especially about an affair as sensitive as this one.
“I wish that it hadn’t gotten out to the media,” he said.
Maurice also copped to the fact there are certain situations that are handled by players, and others that fall on the coaching and management staff.
Clearly, this incident fell to the players and whether it was just a snap reaction or a calculated prank, the message is clear: No one is above the team.
It’s a message that has been used over and over again this season.
You’d need more than two hands and feet to count the number of times players like Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd or anyone in the Jets leadership group say the team isn’t about any one player.
They said it when questioned about the injuries to the blue line and or when asked to comment on the steady play of goalie Michael Hutchinson.
So, given that, perhaps the message to Kane was intentional.
Why else would word get out for something as small as wet clothes and a bruised ego?
Last time I checked, Kane was collecting more money in a single game than most Canadians do in a calendar year. Surely he can buy another tracksuit.
You could suggest Kane may have been the one who leaked it, and by sharing his story it could have been his way of demanding a trade.
Then again, who would want to share that, and have to answer to it later?
Having the Blackhawks in town Friday provided the perfect opportunity to pick the brains of one of the best teams in the entire National Hockey League.
Chicago has won two Stanley Cups in the last five seasons and has the reputation for having one of the best locker rooms in all of sports.
Jonathan Toews, a former Winnipegger and Blackhawks captain, said getting guys to buy into team rules was mainly the product of its leadership group.
He credited the number of experienced and respected players like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa as pillars who set examples for everyone else.
But Toews admitted the team has issues from time to time.
“Sometimes things go south a little bit when the team’s not playing good but you remind yourself why you’re here and why you care about the team and find ways to buy in again and make sure that you’re all headed in the right direction,” he said.
“We’re lucky that we’ve got a great group that understands that.”
To show just how connected the Blackhawks are, Patrick Sharp, now in his tenth season with Chicago, spoke pretty much word for word as his captain.
“You kind of know how things go as far as the locker room, as far as the team, how you’re going to be held responsible for different things,” he said.
“I like to think the stronger [the] leadership group, the more smoothly things go.”
Remember both Byfuglien and Ladd were members of this team once upon a time.
They too won Stanley Cups with Toews and co.; they followed the same rules and understand just how important it is to have cohesiveness in the locker room, that even one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch.
And for the Jets, times aren’t exactly peachy.
The loss to Chicago marked their sixth straight defeat and the odds of making the postseason have plummeted compared to what they were just two weeks ago.
Desperation has set in. Panic is around the corner.
Maybe it was the perfect time to send a message, be it intentional or not.
Whether it will work, well, we’ll have to watch, listen and probably even shake our heads a few times more until we know one way or the other.