Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler on his tweets supporting U.S. protests, Jets vs. Flames

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler couldn’t accept staying silent as protesters reacted to the tragic death of George Floyd, including in Minnesota, where he grew up. So Wheeler spoke up with heartfelt tweets, sharing his support for protesters, while condemning “senseless violence and racism.” Wheeler continued that conversation with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.”

Wheeler on tweets supporting protesters, shares ways to help

“By staying silent, you’re not helping” Wheeler said.

With that in mind, Wheeler pleads that as many people should speak up as possible. (You can see some of the responses from NHL players here. P.K. Subban stands out, in particular, by combining with the NHL to make a $100K donation.)

Wheeler told Tirico that, for the most part, responses have been positive to his message. Granted, Wheeler admits that as a busy father, he doesn’t necessarily have time to “comb” through every response. Which … good for him, really.

Going further, Wheeler followed up that tweet with an Instagram message detailing how he’s been donating to various causes.

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Sam and I have been using this time to educate ourselves and our kids. We’ve been reading, watching, and listening. There are a ton of great organizations out there that could use our help right now. Here are a few that my family has supported over the past week: The Official George Floyd Memorial Fund through @gofundme , Neighbors United Funding Collaborative through @givemn which helps the cleanup and rebuild of the Hamline Midway Neighborhood in Minneapolis, American Civil Liberties Union @aclu_nationwide , Minnesota Freedom Fund @mnfreedomfund , and @visitlakestreet which helps in the rebuild and cleanup of Lake St in Minneapolis. @barackobama shared some great educational pieces that we are reading through and everyone should check out if you can https://www.obama.org/anguish-and-action/ #blackouttuesday

A post shared by Blake Wheeler (@26blakewheeler) on

David Yu shares links for some of Wheeler’s recommendations, if that makes it easier:

Wheeler on Flames vs. Jets

Tirico and Wheeler also talked hockey, naturally.

When asked about the Jets facing the Flames in the Qualifying Round, Wheeler notes that the two teams only faced off once during the regular season. To make things even less familiar, Wheeler also points out that the only game against Calgary was an outdoor contest, making it almost seem like an “exhibition.”

So, the Jets didn’t get the greatest feel for the Flames. Then again, with how disruptive the pandemic ended up being, such data would only be so useful anyway, right?

(Interestingly, Wheeler mentioned that he remembers Flames interim head coach Geoff Ward as an assistant with the Bruins. Kudos to Wheeler for remembering his Bruins days, honestly.)

Maybe most interestingly, Wheeler told Tirico that he’s one of the lucky players who’s been able to skate. Wheeler, 33, has been able to link up with Adam Oates for some training in Florida.

Might that help Wheeler gain a stride or two on others hoping to get in game shape? It couldn’t hurt. Check out that interview in the video above this post’s headline.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Long-term outlook for the Winnipeg Jets

Long-term outlook Winnipeg Jets Laine Connor Hellebuyck
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Winnipeg Jets.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

With the exception of Patrik Laine — who they could theoretically extend during the offseason – the Jets locked down most of their core over the years.

Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck possess two of the “shorter” long-term contracts among that core group, and their affordable contracts run through 2023-24. (Blake Wheeler‘s does, as well, but that’s a little more troubling being that the often-underrated winger is now 33.)

Beyond that Wheeler worry, there’s a lot to like, especially since Wheeler is comfortably the highest paid at $8.25M AAV.

(Actually, Bryan Little‘s contract was troubling from day one, but sadly, he might go on LTIR quite credibly.)

If Kevin Cheveldayoff can extend Laine at a reasonable price, this group could be cost-conscious enough for Winnipeg to even take advantage of other teams possibly facing cap squeezes. It makes me wonder: could the Jets go after another core piece in free agency? Signing, say, Alex Pietrangelo would make them stronger and weaken Central Division rival St. Louis.

Even as a “budget” team, the possibilities are intriguing for the Jets to improve upon their long-term core. That said, improvements might be needed for the Jets to truly soar.

Long-term needs for Jets

It’s remarkable that Hellebuyck (and some star scorers) dragged Winnipeg to playoff contention, because that group was rough this season.

Neal Pionk turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise, to the point that he might be able to join the core to an extent. And, for sure, Josh Morrissey is a steady presence. But things dry up quite a bit beyond that, and an ideal contender probably would ask less of both of them, particularly Morrissey.

So, can Ville Heinola eventually be a key defender? How will Sami Niku’s development go?

Getting steps in development, overall, is a long-term key for the Jets. Jack Roslovic strikes me as someone who can do more, but he needs opportunities. What, exactly, is Laine’s ceiling? Will the Jets actually boost him up to reach it?

The Jets have to hope that they can mitigate the eventual drop-off for Wheeler, who’s already sinking a bit at 33. (By his standards.)

They could also use some more depth. It’s probably not a coincidence that, year after year (Paul Stastny to Kevin Hayes to even Cody Eakin), they seem to need to burn assets to add 2C and/or 3C help. Laurent Brossoit had a tough season, casting some doubt on the backup position.

I’ll also endlessly wonder if Paul Maurice is all that far above your average coach. But, hey, give the dude credit for being a long-term bench presence even with … meh results more often than not.

Long-term strengths for Jets

The sheer youth of this team is something to get excited about. Laine just turned 22. Kyle Connor seems to be jumping another level at 23, while Nikolaj Ehlers is a transition menace at 24. Hellebuyck is 26, Mark Scheifele is only 27, and Morrissey is 25.

I mentioned possibly pitching a deal at Pietrangelo because the Jets see a lot of space opening up.

Losing Dustin Byfuglien hurts, but his age was making his contract risky anyway. The Jets signing Kulikov furrowed my brow, yet now they can use that money toward … uh, someone good? (Sorry, Kulikov.)

It’s not always easy to lure free agents to Winnipeg, but a) they’ve become a consistent winner and b) might be one of the only winners with cash to burn during the uncertain, upcoming offseason.

That mixture of prime-age talent, solid maneuverability, and a steady-and-solid front office should put the Jets in a solid position to compete for some time. They do need Cheveldayoff to make the right moves to get back at a high level again, as Hellebuyck camouflaged a steep decline — one that quietly brewed even toward the end of 2018-19.

MORE ON THE JETS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

On-the-go sports stars embrace family time during shutdown

Blake Wheeler and the Winnipeg Jets would have been on the road last week, trying to make a final push for the playoffs had the National Hockey League season not been called off because of the pandemic.

Now the seven-time All-Star forward is home for dinner each night with his family.

And for the activities, all afternoon. And the teaching, policing and entertaining every morning with his wife, Sam; 7-year-old son, Louie; 4-year-old daughter, Leni; and 2-year-old son, Mase.

”Mase, since he’s been born, he doesn’t want anything to do with me, really, until like a month ago,” Wheeler said. ”Now that I’m here all the time, he’s starting to realize that I am his dad.”

The 82-game NHL schedule, with half of those on the road, means Wheeler is absent from trick-or-treating and Thanksgiving turkey more often than not. He is normally away from home more than one-third of every night in any given year.

Thousands of athletes know that sting. For all the wealth, privilege and rewards elite sports can provide its participants, few vocations require more time away from loved ones. This is what they signed up for, but some parts of life can’t be priced out.

”I appreciate the gift of time and being able to spend it with my family,” said Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese, whose fourth-ranked Terrapins might well have been in New Orleans last week for the Final Four.

When the NCAA Tournament was canceled, Frese hunkered down with her husband, Mark, and their 12-year-old twin boys. She is a middle school tutor now, too.

For all parents, there is no denying homebound days have been draining.

”My 2-year-old gets up at about 5 in the morning,” Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise said. ”He naps from like 1 to 3, and that’s our time to take a deep breath.”

Parise and his wife, Alisha, also have 6-year-old twins to look after. He recalled falling asleep watching television at 8:30 one night – a similar tale to that of his Central Division rival.

”We get ’em all down by about 8 on a good night, and then there’s a half hour of just numbness,” Wheeler said.

St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and his wife, Jayne, have 20-month-old triplets. Like many of his peers, Pietrangelo has been reminded anew how much there is to handle while dad is at the rink.

”There’s not enough time in the day. I’m not even working right now, and I can’t even find enough time to do something for myself,” Pietrangelo said on a conference call as his kids were clamoring for more time outside.

Opportunity beckons, of course, in the gift that is presence.

”You don’t get these days back,” said University of Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt, gratefully describing extra time with his infant daughter. He and his wife also have boys ages 4 and 2 at home.

With no Major League Baseball, Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson was home for his daughter’s first birthday last week. Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has tag-teamed nightly readings of ”Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with his 6-year-old daughter, to be followed by a viewing of the movie.

”It’s cool to see kids learn to do something and be proud of it and then really go after it,” Zimmerman said in a weekly diary he’s keeping for The Associated Press. ”Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that with her if it wasn’t for this.”

Minnesota men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino took his 3-year-old daughter on a drive to count neighborhood dogs. He and his wife, Jill, also have an 8-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son.

”I can’t believe how many times I’ve jumped on a trampoline at 37 years old,” Pitino said.

The suspended NBA season prompted Minnesota Timberwolves executive Gersson Rosas to try yoga for the first time with his wife and 4-year-old twins. Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, energized by the return from college of his 19-year-old daughter, has upped his knowledge of movies and shows from the major streaming services.

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh has relished the laughter from conversation with his 3-year-old daughter he otherwise would have missed on the NHL circuit. Scooter rides around the block have replaced the morning skate.

”She gets so excited every day to do that with me, now that we’ve done it for a couple of weeks in a row,” McDonagh said. ”It’s fun to see the joy in their face. It really makes you love them even more.”

A best on best mythical tournament: 30-and-over

Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of Washington Capitals
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament. The first teams created were a 23-and-under and players in their prime.

Connor McDavid and other exciting young players have taken part of the spotlight, but Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin remain the most prominent faces in the NHL. The next roster to enter this mythical best on best tournament consists of players 30-years-of-age-and-over. It has several of the League’s most accomplished players, including numerous skaters with multiple Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals.

Line Combinations

First line: Alex Ovechkin – Sidney Crosby – Patrick Kane

Thoughts: Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks have fallen out of the limelight in recent years after an era of dominance that included three championships. However, Kane has remained one of the most productive players in the NHL and the thought of his on-ice vision combined with Ovechkin’s blistering slapshot strikes fear into the heart of any opponent. Crosby has the wisdom and skill to balance this line to formulate a trio only used in a video game environment.

Second line: Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronBlake Wheeler

Thoughts: The Bruins have had the most complete line in hockey and two/thirds of that trio reside here. Blake Wheeler has the offensive punch coupled with strong defensive instincts to fill the void left by David Pastrnak. This line will be relied upon to matchup with skilled lines from opponents but also will need to contribute on the offensive side of the ice.

Third line: Claude GirouxEvgeni MalkinJakub Voracek

Thoughts: Malkin has been one of the top centermen since bursting onto the scene in 2006-07 and should bring out the best from his new linemates. Giroux and Voracek each took a step backwards in terms of offensive production this season, but the Flyers have emerged as legitimate Cup contenders in Alain Vigneault’s first season behind the bench in Philadelphia. The effectiveness of this line will determine how far this team could advance in the competition.

Fourth line: Jamie BennAnze KopitarT.J. Oshie

Thoughts: Is there anything else a coach could want in his fourth line? A two-time Selke Trophy winner flanked by a power forward and a skilled winger with defensive awareness? This line will start in the defensive zone majority of the time and be needed to flip momentum of the game within the game.

First D pairing: Mark GiordanoJohn Carlson
Second D pairing: Zdeno CharaDrew Doughty
Third D pairing: Ryan McDonaghAlex Pietrangelo

Thoughts: The absence of Shea Weber is jarring at first, but what attribute is missing from this defensive group? The biggest question facing this collection of rearguards is, do they have the foot speed to keep up with the quickness each team in this tournament possesses?

Starting Goalie: Tuukka Rask
Backup Goalie: Ben Bishop

Just Missed: Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber

Captain: Sidney Crosby

Alternate captains: Patrice Bergeron, Alex Ovechkin

Analysis

The biggest advantage this team has over the competition is experience. Over half of the roster has a Stanley Cup championship under their belt and several players earned multiple championship rings in their respective careers.

Leadership will not be an issue with nine current NHL captains to help this team manage the emotions through this highly competitive tournament.

One area of concern is the speed of the game throughout the competition. Can the defense move the puck up the ice in a timely manner? Can the veteran forwards play at this pace each shift without sacrificing production? This team will be expected to play smart situational hockey and take advantage of special teams opportunities, but can they win even-strength matchups on a consistent basis?

There is an abundance of talent and wisdom up and down the lineup, but will they be able to dictate the pace and play the style they choose, or will they be forced to adapt to the opponents’ preferred style?

The answer to that question will determine how successful this team will be in this imaginary Best on Best tournament.

Surprising omissions

Phil Kessel: He was originally slated to skate alongside Bergeron and Marchand on the second line, but he doesn’t play a strong two-way game that his linemates would have demanded on a consistent basis. It was tough to leave a pure goal scorer like Kessel off the list, but his effectiveness is diminished if not playing in an offensive oriented role.

Steven Stamkos: The captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning is probably the most prolific player left off any roster in this tournament to date, but it was tough to find a spot for the skilled center. Crosby and Bergeron were no-brainers for this team, but the debate was between him and Malkin for the third line slot. The size and strength of the Russian forward were the deciding factors as that toughness will be needed throughout the tournament.

Shea Weber: He could easily slide into any spot along the blueline and the team likely wouldn’t suffer but tough decisions had to be made. The roster is not lacking in the leadership department and the three right-handed shot defensemen selected have the speed needed to keep up with the blazing speed of the competition.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

The Buzzer: Jets, Kings extend winning streaks; Blackhawks thump Sharks

Kyle Connor #81, Blake Wheeler #26 and Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets
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Three Stars

1) Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks

The goal-scoring numbers have not been there for DeBrincat this season, but a three-assist evening Wednesday helped the Blackhawks defeat the San Jose Sharks, 6-2. His helpers came on three consecutive goals (two on the power play) in the second period as the Blackhawks turned a one-goal deficit into a two-score advantage. DeBrincat’s most highlight-worthy assist came at 16:33 of the middle frame when he found Patrick Kane darting toward the back post. The 22-year-old forward weaved around Marc-Edouard Vlasic before Kane netted his second of the evening. Rookie forward Dominik Kubalik added his 30th of the season in the victory.

2) Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets claimed sole possession of the first wild card in the Western Conference with a 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers. Connor scored twice in the third period to help the Jets extend their winning streak to four games. Defenseman Neal Pionk blocked a shot from Leon Draisaitl which allowed Connor to bolt toward the Oilers net. Blake Wheeler delivered a perfect pass to set up a breakaway for Connor who gave the Jets a 3-2 lead with a five-hole finish. Connor added an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the victory for the Jets.

3) Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche

After missing five straight games with an upper-body injury, Makar returned to the lineup and pitched in offensively with three assists in the Avs’ 3-2 win against the Rangers. He helped set up power-play goals for Tyson Jost and Vladislav Namestnikov in regulation. Then, during the three-on-three overtime session, he moved around the offensive zone until firing a wrist shot that Compher eventually deflected for the game-winning goal. Makar has recorded 50 points this season and is in a tight race for the Calder Trophy with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes. The Avalanche remain two points behind the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues but have one game in hand.

[RELATED: NHL evaluating options due to Coronavirus]

Highlights of the Night

Kane scored his second of the game after DeBrincat delivered a perfect cross-ice pass.

Connor McDavid returned to action and beat Connor Hellebuyck to the far post.

It only took Bobby Ryan 29 seconds to open the scoring when he buried this feed from Brady Tkachuk.

Playoff Push

Stat of the Night

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 6, San Jose Sharks 2

Winnipeg Jets 4, Edmonton Oilers 2

Colorado Avalanche 3, New York Rangers 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

Los Angles Kings 3, Ottawa Senators 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.