There will be a new leadership core in Winnipeg this season.
Days before training camp is set to open, the Winnipeg Jets issued a surprising announcement on Friday morning, declaring that former captain Blake Wheeler will be stripped of the 'C' and that the club will enter the 2022-23 season with a leadership contingent made up of multiple assistant captains, instead.
The news reportedly comes as a shock to both Wheeler and a number of Jets players, who communicated their surprise publicly after the decision was announced.
"I was definitely shocked," Wheeler told reporters during a scheduled media availability in conjunction with new Jets head coach Rick Bowness.
"Didn't see it coming."
During the NHL's media tour in Vegas, Mark Schiefele said "Obviously, it was a shock to me. We all look up to him. Obviously, it's going to be weird with him not actually having the C, but I think it just gives the opportunity for more guys to step in and feel like they're able to talk."
For those watching the situation in Winnipeg from afar, the decision to alter the Jets' leadership make-up is not entirely surprising.
The Jets have had multiple reports of locker room friction leak out in recent years -- with notable players such as Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Evander Kane, and Andrew Copp each being reported to have made their desire to leave Winnipeg known.
The saga around Laine is the most recent and heavily publicized case of the bunch, with reports seeming to suggest that the Jets' leadership core of Wheeler and Mark Schiefele did not get along with Laine and played a large role in pushing him out the door. Wheeler himself even admitted to having regrets about how he handled Laine as team captain during the former second-overall pick's tenure with the Jets, telling reporters shortly after Laine was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2021, "Maybe I could have communicated a little better instead of just getting frustrated."
Coming to a head last season, the Jets' locker room seemed to fall into despair, with long-time head coach Paul Maurice resigning from the role unexpectedly due to the team "needing a new voice", Schiefele publicly stating he "needs to know where this team is going" before committing to remaining with the organization in the future, and former Jets forward Paul Stastny saying that the players needed to "have more respect for each other" during his year-end media availability.
Perhaps this change in construction will help mend the issues that are clearly plaguing the Jets off-ice chemistry. But with such a sudden and unexpected announcement coming so soon before training camp, that remains to be seen.