TORONTO -- Mark Scheifele believes the Winnipeg Jets remain unified despite losing in the Western Conference First Round last season and making several changes to their roster in the offseason.
"People can claim whatever, but I know we have a tight-knit team," Scheifele said Thursday at Smashfest, a pingpong tournament in support of concussion and cancer research hosted by former NHL player Dominic Moore. "We have great guys in our room. And there's no question in my mind about the character we have in our room, the unity that we have."
The 26-year-old center is aware of rumors about internal issues with the Jets, but he brushed it aside.
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"That other stuff, that's the stuff as a team you block out," Scheifele said. "You know what's going on in your room. Anything extra is a bunch of baloney."
After finishing second in the Central Division last season with 99 points, the Jets will look significantly different this season with the departures of four key players: forward Brandon Tanev and defensemen Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot.
Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers for defenseman Neal Pionk and a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on June 17; Myers signed a five-year contract with the Vancouver Canucks and Tanev signed a six-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 1; and Chiarot signed a three-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens on July 4.
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There also is the uncertainly surrounding forwards Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, each a restricted free agent.
Scheifele, who established NHL career highs last season with 38 goals and 84 points, remains optimistic the Jets will be competitive in the Central, arguably the best division in the NHL, but understands there are a lot of questions surrounding them. He addressed those issues in a wide-ranging Q&A with NHL.com.
How difficult has it been to see the likes of Myers, Trouba, Chiarot and Tanev leave this offseason especially after being part of the Jets' success the past couple of years?
"Obviously, it's tough to see good friends go like that. Jacob is one of my best friends. We started in the League together and have been best friends ever since. Myers is a good friend. So is Chiarot. So is Tanev. It's always tough seeing a friend go and knowing you're not going to be with them next year."
How do you replace guys like that?
"It's tough. But we have a great team. And we have some good guys in the system. The team has done a good job drafting and developing guys in the system. It just gives the opportunity for someone else to step up, and that's what we need guys to do."
How much does it concern you that two of your top scorers, Laine and Connor, remain unsigned?
"That's something that is totally out of your control. It's their lives. It's up to their agents and the team to figure out. It's not our job as players to figure out. You just have to go out in the summer and focus on the things you yourself need to work on. And after that, whatever happens, happens. There's nothing you can do."
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The Jets have been eliminated by the eventual Western Conference champion the past two seasons. First it was the Vegas Golden Knights, in 2018, then the St. Louis Blues, who went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2019. Is there any consolation in that?
"It takes a lot to get to the Stanley Cup Final, and in the end, you know you've lost to a good team. But at the end of the day, you know there was a chance you could have been there. The same goes for [the] Toronto [Maple Leafs]. They went through the exact same thing in losing in the first round to a Boston Bruins team that also went to the Final. A bounce here, a bounce there, a few lucky breaks, and you think about how it might have been you that got there. It's certainly no consolation, but you know what to fix and what to work on. That's the good thing about hockey. You know what to think about and go from there. You've just got to keep working hard."
The Central Division keeps getting stronger. The Blues are defending champs. The Dallas Stars added Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. The Nashville Predators signed Matt Duchene. The Colorado Avalanche traded for Nazem Kadri. Do you feel the Jets are a bit under the radar entering this season? If so, is that a good thing?
"At the end of the day, you still have to go out there and play your game and try to win games. No matter the hype, no matter what it is, you still have to go out there and prove yourself every night. And it's going to be on us next year. A lot of Central Division teams I know got better, and we have to be ready for that task. We know, every year I've been in the League, every game against a Central Division team has been a tough one. Nothing changes come this year."