There’s a bug circulating within the Winnipeg Jets dressing room and the captain has been the hardest hit.
Blake Wheeler was excused from practice Thursday and it’s not a certainty his health will improve prior to puck drop Friday night when the San Jose Sharks come to town.
“Under the weather. We’ll make a decision (Friday),” offered head coach Paul Maurice, following the skate at Bell MTS Place.
Top-line centre Mark Scheifele didn’t seem himself in a chat with reporters, while Patrik Laine sounded a bit hoarse when he talked about Maurice’s contract extension.
Cold and flu season aside, the best medicine for the Jets (29-24-5) would be a victory over the Sharks (24-28-4), who have lost six of their last nine, including a 6-2 loss to the visiting Calgary Flames on Monday.
Winnipeg is 4-1-1 in its last six but was snakebitten in a 4-1 loss Tuesday to the Rangers, courtesy of a stellar 42-save performance by goalie Igor Shesterkin.
Blue-liner Tucker Poolman hasn’t enjoyed life as a spectator for a dozen contests but there’s a chance he could get up close and personal with former Jets winger Evander Kane and the rest of the Sharks.
Out with a lower-body injury since Dec. 12, Poolman could return to the lineup Friday – likely in a reduced role.
He was partnered with Josh Morrissey before going down against the Nashville Predators, however, that top-pairing slot has been filled by Neal Pionk. Coach Paul Maurice will need to do some juggling to get Poolman in to the lineup, and that could mean a seat in the press box for Sami Niku.
Luca Sbisa (lower body), sidelined since Feb. 5, is also close to returning.
Last week, news broke from Toronto that the Dustin Byfuglien saga was nearing and end — by way of a mutual contract termination. Since then, crickets.
Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had nothing much to offer on the subject Thursday.
“Until the Byfuglien situation is resolved one way or another, there’s really not much that I can get into right now. I will get into it if and when there is some resolution to it. Obviously, reports are reports and I’ll deal with the facts when the facts present themselves,” he said.
Byfuglien took a leave of absence before the start began and then had an ankle surgically repaired. He and the team were slated to face off in an arbitration hearing to determine if he’s due is salary, as he contends the injury was sustained last season.
Cheveldayoff was asked Friday if he’s working toward a resolution?
“I’ve been thinking about the Dustin Byfuglien situation since the night before training camp. So, yeah, working on it every day.”
Two years ago, the surging Jets added centre Paul Stastny to the mix at the trade deadline, and the veteran played a key role in the club’s drive to the Western Conference Final. Last season, the acquisition of centre Kevin Hayes did little to bolster Winnipeg down the stretch and into the postseason.
As the Jets hover near the playoff line with 24 game to go in the regular season, could the Jets be buyers or sellers?
Cheveldayoff, sticking to form, refused to show his cards.
“The approach really begins and essentially ends with, ‘Is there a right fit out there? Is there something that makes sense that we have the ability to do, that we have the wherewithal to do?’ That’s the approach, whether you’re in first place or the situation (we’re in) where you’re one point out of the equation right now,” he said.
“You have the conversations with different teams and you try to put yourself in a situation where you’re in those conversations to know what the asking prices may be if there are fits out there.”
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
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