The Winnipeg Jets managed to look more like a soap opera Thursday than a hockey team fighting for a playoff spot with drama coming on several fronts.
It all started shortly after the team’s morning skate when forward Evander Kane appeared before reporters looking contrite. Kane, who leads the team in scoring with 18 goals, had been benched briefly during Winnipeg’s 5-3 loss in Boston on Tuesday and he was called out publicly after the game by head coach Claude Noel for poor play.
“It’s something I have to deal with and I have to be better,” Kane said Thursday looking downcast. He added that he had not spoken with Noel since the Boston game. “The coach’s job is to do what he thinks is best for the team and I want to be able to contribute and I want to be able to help the team out...I need to better, I know I can be better and I will be better,” Kane added.
When Noel appeared before reporters later he blamed the media for provoking him into the comments.
“Evander Kane is not a subject for me, it’s a subject for you guys. Evander Kane missed a couple of shifts in the first [Tuesday]and played 18 minutes,” Noel said. “He’s a good player. He’s going to continue to be a good player. I like him today like I liked him every other day and to me it’s a non issue.”
When pressed about why he targeted Kane, Noel said he had been caught up in the game and reporters exploited his emotions. “You guys are very good at provoking emotions. That’s what you do. And when you get caught, you pay the price. So it’s something that I’ll be ready for next time.”
Then he seemed to lecture himself. “I would sooner deal with the players face to face which is where I do it. The media isn’t the forum for me to do it...The media isn’t the forum for me to deal with players that’s just not where it gets done. That’s not a motivating place.”
And yet when asked if he regretted his comments, Noel replied: “I don’t regret it, just the emotions of things.”
So would he do it again? “We’ll see.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, the Jets generated more drama over the announcement that Dustin Byfuglien had been selected to play in the all-star game.
While Byfuglien is popular in Winnipeg with fans, the betting was that Kane would be the likely selection from the Jets. After all Byfuglien has been injured since before Christmas and won’t be back any time soon. He also had a slow start to the year and currently sits third among the Jets in points with 24, consisting of six goals and 18 assists. And he has a plus-minus of minus eight. Plus there are his ongoing legal issues stemming from charges filed last summer in Minnesota involving allegations of impaired boating.
Noel said he wasn’t sure if Byfuglien would be recovered from his injury to play in the game.
“It’s hard to say. We would hope we have him back before then.”
Noel praised the big defenceman, but also noted his slow start.
“Through his first eight to 10 games, he was all over the place so we had to try and stabilize his game. He’s a skilled player that, to me, has really, after his first initial eight to ten games, has really played well for us...I think he’s done his part and he’s continued to grow.”
What did Byfuglien think about his selection? Who knows. The Jets did not make him available for comment. It seems he had too many other issues to deal with. That prompted more than a few puzzled looks from reporters.
All of this came as the Jets prepared to face the San Jose Sharks Thursday at the MTS Centre. Not an easy task considering the Sharks have one of the best road records in the league and the Jets are coming off a 1-3 road trip.