Bellick: It wasn’t surprising that the planes stripped Wheeler of Captain Wheeler

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Make no mistake, the captain’s stripping of Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler sent huge shock waves across the NHL on Friday.

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But as big a news story in Winnipeg and beyond, it came as no surprise.

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Even before delving into all the reasons why a team would take the letter “C” from their longtime captain, just take a look back at last summer and how both Wheeler and the Jets fared.

Wheeler was not hiding from that on Friday when asked if he was working with the team to try to trade him. Both sides agreed that separating the avenues would be mutually beneficial.

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The 36-year-old confirmed the rumors and reports. That alone was reason enough to get a “C” off his chest.

The belief that any NHL team would welcome their captain back with open arms after knowing he was looking for greener pastures would be the ultimate embarrassment — not for the player, but for the franchise.

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It’s important to note that two things can be true as the dust settles: Blake Wheeler was a good captain of the Winnipeg Jets and Blake Wheeler was no longer the proper captain of the Winnipeg Jets.

Newly appointed head coach Rick Bowness did his due diligence, solicited the opinions of his players and, with the information obtained, came to the conclusion that a change was necessary.

He fired the trigger on Friday, as the 67-year-old bench chief announced loudly and clearly that he was the city’s new mayor, and adhering to his rule is mandatory.

Something had to be delivered after last season, and if surgery isn’t a big list this summer, it has to be something else

You do not emerge from the rubble of a miserable campaign, filled with questions of accountability, respect and culture, unscathed.

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And how does one continue to lead a team if questions are asked about Wheeler’s continued leadership during Bones’ due diligence?

Friday’s announcement, without a doubt, was the right decision for the team. Wheeler, as vital as he has been to the franchise since his return in 2011, has blunted that welcome.

Anyone reading between the lines can smell what happened. Sometimes, what was not said was the loudest yell, and there was a lot of yelling without speaking, simply because there was no need to express it.

The action that was taken told the story.

Because if there was no problem – whatever it was – Friday wouldn’t be the same.

Wheeler will remain the captain and there will be no need for the PR component of the team to formulate “command restructuring” as a synonym for the “C” abstraction.

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It was just a window decoration. Trying to cover up what was actually happening.

That’s a hard pill to swallow for Wheeler, who despite questions about his ice driving, hasn’t changed his shifts, let alone play.

Friday was never an indictment about Wheeler’s ability to play the game. It was a charge against his ability to continue to lead this club forward.

Just as Paul Morris’ voice and direction did, so did Wheeler.

The words and sentiments expressed at the end of those 82 matches in early May proved very harmful.

The Jets are a team at a bit of a crossroads, and that’s been for two seasons.

They had hoped that their veteran core would harmonize smoothly with the youth movement, but that didn’t happen. Friction or lack of friction between different generations, the results on the ice are not there, and with this youth movement now ready (and probably ready for some time) to take the next step, how long can this team wait without further jeopardizing its future potential?

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Wheeler’s not on an island here. He’s not the first captain to see the letter “C” disappear from his jacket.

Dustin Brown helped the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup twice, and the captain is still torn from him in 2016, just two seasons after lifting the second title from those two championships.

Brown was understandably upset. Wheeler, too, wasn’t happy on Friday. He handled both his anger and the embarrassment of the situation well.

Patrick Marlowe lost his captain once. He lost it to Joe Thornton in San Jose, who was also stripped of his C years later. None of the players was happy.

It happened to Mike Modano and it happened to Trevor Linden. You can guess their feelings at this point.

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Big names and related professions that you look up to with respect.

Wheeler’s career will likely get similar treatment when all is said and done. He succeeded in running.

Meanwhile, the Jets are in a position where they can’t afford to miss the mark many times more than they already have. Time is against them when it comes to the contracts they have and their window for success with the current group.

Throw away the financial problems off the ice and the growing indifference of fans that have led to swathes of empty seats for the opening season just weeks away – elements critically relevant to the team that should ice the winner.

A quiet summer didn’t offer General Manager Kevin Sheveldayov much excitement. Perhaps the iron fist of his third coach and his willingness to make bold moves.

sbileck@postmedia.com

Twitter: @scottbilleck

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