The Winnipeg Jets made some news yesterday, but it wasn't just the letters that were present on the jerseys that were noteworthy.
The big news was obviously that Blake Wheeler was chosen as captain today to fill the void left by the Andrew Ladd trade, and that Mark Scheifele and Dustin Byfuglien are to serve as his alternates. However, a somewhat notable sidebar from this news was that True North family member and AIH whipping boy Mark Stuart had his 'A' taken off his chest.
It didn't go unnoticed that Stu was demoted though, as head coach Paul Maurice was asked about it. And the quote below certainly told quite the story depending on how you chose to interpret it.
#NHLJets Maurice on Stuart no longer an alt captain: "Players that I would be comfortable wearing the C -- they need to be the alt captains"— Paul Friesen (@friesensunmedia) August 31, 2016
Ouch. My, how the gritty and shot-blocking mighty have fallen. It wasn't that long ago that Stu was lauded around these parts by many fans and media members for his leadership qualities and intangibles. But that memo seems to have been replaced by a new one, as the narrative certainly appears to have completely changed.
Now, to be fair, Paul Friesen followed up that tweet with this collection, suggesting that he didn't see it as a shot at the defender in his opinion.
I didn't take Maurice's comment on Stuart as a shot, or even a criticism. I'll post the entire comment in my next tweet. #NHLJets.— Paul Friesen (@friesensunmedia) September 1, 2016
#NHLJets Maurice on Stuart (1/2) "When you're changing the C and you have to go through the process of identifying those people....— Paul Friesen (@friesensunmedia) September 1, 2016
"... I was left with players that I would be comfortable wearing the C. They need to be the alternate captains." Maurice on Stuart (2/2).— Paul Friesen (@friesensunmedia) September 1, 2016
However, he summed up his thoughts with the following tweet, which appeared to be a somewhat popular sentiment among some other local media members.
My impression: Stuart might have a tough time getting into the lineup some nights. I'm sure he knows the drill. Veteran. #NHLJets.— Paul Friesen (@friesensunmedia) September 1, 2016
@Brandon_Rewucki surprised? I'm not in the least, that ship has sailed— Andrew Paterson (@hustlerama) August 31, 2016
What?! @garylawless saying stuart might get beat out for a job on the Jets blue line??— Chester (@creims10) August 31, 2016
So what does this all mean? Well, until camp breaks and the opening night roster is determined, perhaps not much. But symbolically, a player with two more years left on his contract at an AAV of $2.625m per season was just demoted. And with that, some local media members have begun pencilling him into the press-box.
It also makes me wonder about the futures of fellow controversial veterans in Chris Thorburn and Ondrej Pavelec, who are both about to enter the final year of their respective contracts. With clearly better (and younger and cheaper) options available, and the possibility that a guy like Stu could be parked in the popcorn zone upstairs with a longer term left on his deal, it could mean the beginning of the end for these guys too. Maybe they'll spend time in the pressbox together so that the kids can play, be that with the Jets or the Moose?
Or maybe not. Who knows. Until these guys are no longer utilized and the younger players in the organization are played regardless of contract status, I'm not ready to fully believe that a corner has been turned. Perhaps it's just a turning of the page leadership-wise that will have little to no bearing on ice-time. Better players have existed before yet these guys have continually played. But Maurice's comments today perhaps offer a glimmer of hope that change may be coming...
Unless they get re-signed again, that is.
**NOTE: Stick tap to Vargs and Kat for their solid tweets yesterday that inspired the title of this post***