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The Winnipeg Jets Are Broken

At some point, the Winnipeg Jets need the type of change that turns the page on an era in franchise history, acknowledging past success while also charting a course for a brand new future.
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Clearly, no one in the Winnipeg Jets organization has seen Breaking Bad. 

One of that show's more pivotal speeches is delivered by the wise character of Mike Ehrmantraut, who regales Mr. Broke Bad himself, Walter White, of the perils of eschewing the difficult but necessary decision in favor of seeing things through only halfway. 

"No more half-measures," Mike says. And he was right. Fatally right, in fact.  

In choosing to strip Blake Wheeler of the team captaincy on Friday while still keeping him around as an entrenched piece of the team's new collaborative leadership contingent, the Jets chose a half measure, taking action to solve a problem without ripping the band-aid off all the way. 

It will not go well. 

For those following the team with any regularity over the past few years, the decision to shake up the Jets' leadership core does not exactly come as a shock. The rumors of tensions and infighting within that group are nearly as extensive as the list of players who, either publicly or privately, have made their intentions to leave town outwardly known. 

Winnipeg needs change. Real change. Not the dressed-up, half-hearted, ceremonial mumbo-jumbo from Friday, accompanied by a long-winded PR statement and a decidedly awkward media availability. The change the Jets need is the kind that turns the page on an era in franchise history, acknowledging past success while also charting a course for a brand new future. 

The time for that change is now -- more so than ever before. And it can't happen with the same brain trust at the helm. 

Prior to his demotion this week, Wheeler had been the Jets' captain since 2016, assuming the role ahead of the 2016-17 campaign after seven seasons in the organization, three of which while serving as an assistant to former captain Andrew Ladd. 

By that count, Wheeler had played either a supporting or central role in the Jets' leadership core for nearly a decade. And in that time, the Jets have endured rift after rift under his guise that fractured their locker room behind closed doors -- juggling complicated relationships, clashing personalities, and innate stubbornness in a manner that has always ended with the guy not named Wheeler or Scheifle being shuttled out. 

Evander Kane once arrived to a team meeting late and violated the team dress code, wearing a tracksuit instead of the required shirt and tie. Rather than being dealt with formally by team leaders, Kane was instead disciplined by Dustin Byfuglien, who took it upon himself to take his tracksuit and throw it in the shower. Kane was sent to Buffalo shortly after. 

Then there's Jacob Trouba, who spent most of his RFA years in Winnipeg demanding a trade and even held out for the first few games of that 2016-17 season to make his point before ultimately being dealt to the Rangers the following year. Just last season, Trouba's former roommate, Andrew Copp, reportedly shared a similar desire to play elsewhere and was also sent to New York. 

Former Jets forward Paul Stastny told reporters at his end-of-year media availability this past April that the team had a lot to learn, suggesting that players needed to "have more respect for each other". He eventually signed in Carolina.

This is how the Jets dealt with issues under their still-current leadership's reign. Problems don't get fixed, they get removed -- even if it's to the team's detriment. 

After Patrik Laine's production stalled in his third and fourth seasons and reports of a divide between himself and the Jets' "old guard" of Wheeler and Schiefele began leaking out to the public, what do you think happened? Did the captain and his cohort organize a formal sit-down with Laine wherein they talked openly about their differences and formulated a plan to move forward in a collaborative and healthy manner? 

Perhaps. But any plan they agreed upon ultimately didn't stick, as Laine was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets shortly after in 2021, along with forward Jack Roslovic who was engaging in a holdout with the Jets at the time, in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois. Shortly after the trade, Wheeler expressed his regrets about handling Laine's issues, telling reporters, "Maybe I could have communicated a little better instead of just getting frustrated."

Roughly 18 months later, Laine is fresh off a point-per-game season in Columbus that netted him a big-money contract extension while Dubois has been in heavy trade rumors for the past year. 

How many more signs do you need? 

Even the team's long-time head coach, Paul Maurice, was ahead of the curve, resigning from the position midway through last season without any warning while the team was in the midst of a playoff hunt due to his belief that the Jets needed a different voice than the one they'd been listening to for the past seven years. 

Maurice's departure offered a legitimate path to change, as did the Jets' failure to make the playoffs despite their admirable late-season push. If they had opted to hit the reset button on their aging core, no one would've blamed them. But that would've been a full measure. Instead, the powers-that-be shuffled things halfway, declaring the desire to run it back despite adding no significant pieces to a roster that, just months prior, had proven incapable of punching a post-season ticket.

This is the problem with half measures. The Jets have been operating with them throughout their existence, cutting branches off weeds while keeping the roots firmly intact. No matter how many times you discard one problem the same way, another will rise up. 

It's a vicious cycle -- one that has stunted any hope of growth within the Jets' walls for years. And no amount of jersey lettering, or lack thereof, will change that if it's still being displayed on the same old bodies. 

The Winnipeg Jets are broken. And the only cure is a real, honest-to-goodness reboot. And if they don't figure this out soon, they'll have no option but to go that route.

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