Over the weekend the National Hockey League was the site of a huge trade in which the #2 and #3 overall picks at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft were swapped for one another. So rare is that to see two sequential top 5 picks swapped for one another that the last time we saw the likes of it in this league was 26 years ago.
Fans in Winnipeg had been bracing for this moment for several seasons after it became more and more clear over time that the relationship between star forward Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets organization had become untenable. There has been a ton of speculation about what the motivations between this fractured relationship has been, but until Monday morning we really had no idea what had caused Laine to want out so bad.
On Monday morning Finnish outlet Iltalehti, the same outlet that published an interview in the summer of 2019 in which Laine admitted that he was unhappy with his situation with the Jets, published a report that claimed to have inside knowledge of what actually went down in Winnipeg. The report is damning and it clearly lays the blame at the feet of 3 men in the Winnipeg Jets organization. The finger is primarily pointed at Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler, but also makes mention of Mark Scheifele and Paul Maurice.
According to the report from Iltalehti the problem stemmed from the fact that Wheeler, a right winger on the Jets top line, felt threatened that his position could be usurped by the young Finnish star. The report also claims that Wheeler was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of a Finnish star coming into Winnipeg and potentially winning over fans the way Teemu Selanne had in the past.
It has become public knowledge that Laine was desperate to play alongside the team's top centerman, the aforementioned Scheifele, but the report claims that he was on Wheeler's "leash" and made it clear to everyone that he wanted to remain with Wheeler on his wing. They go on to state that Jets head coach Paul Maurice was "too weak" to step in and defy his top stars at the time and let them continue to run the locker room as they saw fit.
It's one thing for two veteran players to want to continue playing together, but it is another matter entirely when it crosses the line over into actively limiting one of your teammates. Iltalehti claims that Wheeler tried to stunt Laine's development, either by talking badly behind his back to other members of the Jets organization or by "throwing sand in the works" which is a Finnish expression that means the same thing as our "throwing a wrench in the works."
Although I have no reason to doubt the reporting from Iltalehti, I am labeling this as a rumor for now because we have no way of corroborating what is obviously a 1-sided version of events.
That being said over the weekend, before this story ever came out, Wheeler of his own free will told reporters that he had some regrets about the way he handled things with Laine. It was quite the admission from Wheeler at the time, and one that looks much different given the added context of this report.