Jets strip Blake Wheeler of captaincy, head coach Rick Bowness announces

The Winnipeg Jets are making some changes to their on-ice leadership group. The team announced it has stripped veteran forward Blake Wheeler of his captaincy and will begin the 2022-23 season without one.

Wheeler has been the Jets’ captain since 2016, but a disappointing 2021-22 season in which the team missed the playoffs prompted some big changes. Head coach Paul Maurice was fired, and former Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness was hired to take his place.

With training camp around the corner, Bowness made the decision to go without a captain, at least for the start of the year.

“It is the determination of the coaching staff that we will enter the 2022-23 season without a specific captain, but rather a group of assistants still to be determined,” Bowness said in a statement. “It is our goal to expand the leadership base between our hockey team. We have high expectations for our core players and we want to provide them with the opportunity to step into those greater leadership roles as a group.”

Bowness expanded upon his decision while speaking with the media. The new Jets coach said he got the sense that it was time for change, as far as the leadership was concerned, but he was pleased with how close the locker room is.

“With the new staff, it was a good time to look at changing the leadership of the room as well,” Bowness said. “It took some time, but in fairness, we have a whole new staff. We don’t know the players. I can tell you this, and I’ve said this before, I was very encouraged all summer talking to the players. This is a much, much tighter group than the perception of the room. That was very encouraging.”

Bowness also noted that the team’s key players were ready to accept more responsibility after a frustrating 2021-22 campaign.

“Also, you could tell in their tone and their wording that they wanted to accept more responsibility,” Bowness said. “They’re all very disappointed with what went on last year. That’s behind us. Now we have changes. That just includes the way we’re going to go about the leadership of the team.”

Wheeler has been with the Jets organization since he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011. In 12 seasons with the Thrashers and Jets, Wheeler has totaled 246 goals, 511 assists, and 757 points.

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