Blake Wheeler's 'worst year' has nothing to do with Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler clearly isn't interested in being a bright spot.
Following the Winnipeg Jets' 2-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks at MTS Centre Tuesday night, the 29-year-old has a team-leading 64 points in 73 games—a clip that should get him up and around the career-high 69 points his threw up in 2013-14.
In a season-long nosedive, say from November through to the last few weeks of garbage time, Wheeler has been the Jets' most valuable player.
And people are noticing. He was named to the U.S. squad that will compete in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey at the end of the summer, and barring any significant changes to the Winnipeg roster, the eight-year veteran figures to be a leading candidate to be the second captain in Jets 2.0 history.
There's a lot going right for Wheeler right now.
That's why his comments before Tuesday's game raised some eyebrows on those still paying attention.
Wheeler, not known as a man who minces words when the right question strikes, gave a rather telling answer when asked to measure his own production against the lack of team success coming out a playoff appearance a year ago:
"It feels like the worst year of my career, to be honest."
This can be taken a couple of ways.
One, Wheeler is no dummy. He knows he's on the leadership list and knows that if he puts his own success ahead of the club—in any way, shape or form—it won't be taken with a grain of salt.
The season has been a total disaster and the current product on the ice isn't worth the cost on the ticket to see said product, but any comment that even hints at selfishness would be picked apart by vultures until there was nothing left but the sun-bleached bones of an honest answer provided to the media.
He even shouldered some of the blame Tuesday. It was a nice gesture, to be sure.
His answer can also be digested in a big-picture sense, taking into consideration the past history, present situation and future direction of the club.
The University of Kreskin has not verified the mind-reading ability of yours truly, but it's no stretch to figure Wheeler's remarks are built on the premise of irritation and disappointment with the current path the franchise is on.
Does anyone honestly think Wheeler, who's only participated in four playoff games in the last six seasons, wants to be a part of this 'step back/re-build/slow-cooker process' the Jets are preaching to the congregation?
Factor in the positive strides the club made last season—making the playoffs, actually trading for NHL talent to help get there, showing a commitment to the current veteran group—against the drastic about-face of this season, and it's easy to understand where he's coming from.
Wheeler is a devoted member of the Jets, but even he must be losing faith.
For context, Wheeler mentioned coming into the season "excited" about the "playoff run" last spring, and how it could be used as motivation this time around. He also sent a flare of frustration up into the sky regarding the last 4-5 years—suggesting he's thought about the latest development timetable put forth by management and what that means for some of the veteran cornerstones.
The clock is ticking. Windows are closing. Prime years are being wasted. That can't be a good feeling for a player like Wheeler, a player who has yet to see any success in his career.
This is not a sympathy crusade for Wheeler. At 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, he's literally and figuratively a big boy, and is paid handsomely ($5.8-million annually for the next three seasons after this one) for his effort and commitment to the Jets.
He'll be just fine.
But for a second prior to Tuesday's game, in another flash of honesty from a typically honest player, he wasn't fine, and the lone bright light on the Jets this season went a little dark.
And it revealed quite a bit.