The body is still warm, but the Winnipeg Jets autopsy has already begun.
And there are sure to be a lot of topics explored during the coming days.
The day began with a glimmer of hope for the Jets, who needed a win over the Montreal Canadiens and some help from some Southeast Division rivals in order to remain in the playoff picture, if only for a couple more days.
For the most part, there was the requisite level of desperation from the Jets, who got an early goal on a one-timer from James Wright (who buried a sweet dish from Chris Thorburn) to get on the board first.
The Habs got the equalizer from Rene Bourque after a goalmouth scramble midway through the second, but Blake Wheeler produced a rebound goal of his own to put the Jets back on top after 40 minutes of play.
Late in the second period, it became clear that the Jets had only one shot into the playoffs, as the New York Rangers punched their ticket to the post-season on an overtime goal from captain Ryan Callahan – after Brad Richards tied the game on a power play late in the third period with a point shot that caromed off the end boards and then hit the skate of Dan Ellis in the waning moments.
That left the Ottawa route or bust for the Jets.
Wouldn’t you know it, the Senators and Washington Capitals also went to overtime and during a minor penalty to Caps C Mike Ribeiro, Sergei Gonchar blasted home a one-timer and in the blink of an eye, the playoff dream was over for the Jets.
One member of the media suggested the Jets may as well skip the third period and go straight to the jersey-off-your-back promotion.
Some members of the Jets already knew their fate before the third period and in some respects, it showed.
The Jets were sloppy early and when G Ondrej Pavelec had trouble catching a long slapper by Habs rookie RW Brendan Gallagher, you got the feeling it could be a long 20 minutes for the home side.
Before the period was over, the Canadiens had scored three unanswered goals — David Desharnais (on the power play) and Max Pacioretty (on a wrister that Pavelec got a piece of but not enough of) added markers —and skated to a 4-2 victory that helped put a little jump in their step after dropping five of the past six.
After battling their tails off for the past several months and holding down a playoff spot for nearly a month (from Mar. 17 to Apr. 4), the Jets were done.
I asked captain Andrew Ladd about the finality of the situation afterward.
“It’s the reality of the situation. It’s part of it, you don’t win enough games, you don’t get in. It’s on us,” said Ladd.
Ladd, Wheeler, Ron Hainsey and Ondrej Pavelec all had a good handle on a tough situation.
Talking about seeing your season come to an end after battling for so long is never easy, but there were some thoughtful comments from all of them.
Probably the most important thing that stood out to me was the disappointment. That was the subject I based my game column around, the fact this group isn’t willing to accept finishing in ninth place.
When you’re trying to break a culture of losing, having players that year to win and hate to lose is so important to making that happen.
It’s clear members of the Jets’ leadership core want to take the next step and it also seems clear to the captain that some personnel changes will be in the offing.
“Anytime you don’t get in, there are going to be changes. There should be changes, because it’s not good enough. I’m sure there will be an evaluation from that standpoint. That’s not our job. Our job is to show up and play,” said Ladd, who was also asked what the Jets need to do to take that next step. “I don’t know, that’s a management decision too. As players, we have to be more consistent in our effort, in the way we play and give ourselves a chance.”
Hainsey has still never qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs and didn’t hold back when asked if getting this close at the end of his contract with the Jets hurt a little more?
“As you get older, they hurt a little more,” said Hainsey. “But I wouldn’t know how to rate it.”
Jets winger Evander Kane was incredibly frustrated by season his season come to an early end once again, but wouldn’t going into detail about the injury he was dealing with during the stretch drive.
“I don’t have too much to say,” said Kane. “Like I said before, nobody is 100% at this time of the year, especially playing every other night. I had to battle through some things.”
When I asked him if it was something to do with his wrist, he re-iterated that he didn’t want to talk about it.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” said Kane.
After battling for so long, the discussion quickly turns to the future of the team and whether or not certain individuals are back or not.
Hainsey was asked if he wanted to be back with the Jets next season.
“I’ve kept all of that kind of thing between me and the team at this point and that’s how it will remain,” said Hainsey.
One other subject we’ll be watching closely is which members of the Jets are asked to participate in the 2013 World Championship in Finland, which is just around the corner.
A few players declined invitations last spring, but with the Olympics less than a year away, you can be sure that a few more guys are going to answer the call from their country in preparation for that.
Colleague Kirk Penton had the snapshots and delved into a variety of topics, while columnist Paul Friesen took a closer look at how some of the Jets found out they were eliminated during the second intermission. Penton’s sidebar was on NHL draft lottery, which takes place on Monday.
Be sure to check out another comprehensive package in Friday’s Sun and at www.winnipegsun.com.
The Jets’ players will hold their year-end exit meetings with coaches and management on Friday and will hold their final media availability of the season in the morning. Friesen and I will be on hand for wall-to-wall coverage.
And don’t miss our final Friday afternoon Jets live chat from 2 to 3 pm CT.