Wheeler told ESPN's Craig Custance that Kane is "coming into the stage of his career where he's no longer a young guy. He needs to step up and be a leader on this team." Personally, there's nothing wrong with setting the bar high at the start of training camp when it comes to accountability. Calling out Kane as the example might be overblown, but let's not skirt around the issue: everyone in Winnipeg is thinking the same thing.
Evander Kane responded via Twitter with "could have just thrown me a text #youcanfindmeatthetopofthecircle" which has since been deleted. A number of people viewed that as a dissention amongst the ranks of the Jets' dressing room with Wheeler's public challenge to Kane and his team, and Wheeler went into full damage control by stating that Kane was making a joke via the social media platform that was misunderstood or misinterpreted by the Winnipeg fans and media. This is the same Evander Kane who was favoriting tweets about a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. If anyone knows that his tweets come under intense scrutiny, Kane is all too familiar.
So let's cut through the crap here about there being cracks in the leadership in the locker room. Let's dismiss the notion that this team is on rocky ground because one guy hurt another guy's feelings. I want to put all the cards on the table with one word:
That's precisely what this season in Winnipeg will come down to on an empirical level. Players need to be accountable for themselves, to each other, to the coaches, to the management, to the staff, to the fans, to the franchise, and to the city. The Jets are largely a group of 20-somethings that could seize the opportunity like Dallas did last season and do something fun and crazy like blowing the pundits' predictions clear out of the water. This team has enough young talent to be ignorant of those who said they'd be in the hunt for McDavid or Eichel yet proud enough to not let one loss turn into five-in-a-row. However, it starts with each player looking in the mirror and saying "I'll be the difference this season", and then turning to the rest of his teammates and saying the same thing.
Blake Wheeler didn't raise eyebrows when he called out the rest of the team, singling out Kane for what he could be if he applied himself. Wheeler actually had more heads nodding in agreement before he tried to diffuse the situation with his "j/k lol" defence. That's accountability, and it's what more people in this city want to hear from their on-ice idols.
Kane's a big boy and can speak for himself about the tweet that was deleted. He doesn't need Wheeler defending his reply. Wheeler, for his part, shouldn't have to defend what he said either because he's right. It's time for this team to start being accountable for their play on the ice. They cruised through the honeymoon period. They cruised through Claude Noel's laid-back, player-friendly style. They cruised through a coaching change for the latter half of the season last year.
Paul Maurice has the opportunity to break a lot of players in this year's training camp. He has already said that players should expect to work during camp, and that anything less will not be tolerated. That, readers, builds character and accountability. That is something this team is sorely lacking right now, and I commended Wheeler for throwing down the gauntlet at the feet of one of the guys expected to put this team on his shoulders.
However, the defence of Kane's statement makes me wonder if Wheeler wasn't just speaking in clichés for the media.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!