Jets head coach not on hot seat yet, but it is getting warmer
On the eve of the 2015 season, Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Paul Maurice was being touted in some corners as a potential Jack Adams candidate for NHL coach of the year: Seeding-all-30-bench-bosses
But after a season that can only be characterized as a disappointing step back from the year before, there likely won’t be any Jack Adams whispers for Maurice as we head into the 2016 season (as illustrated here: Ranking-the-30-nhl-head-coaches).
The doubters will be ready to pounce. And make no mistake, there are doubters out there. While Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff takes a lot of heat from some corners, around the league he is genuinely respected for the blueprint he has laid out in Winnipeg. Not every contract has been a home run; in fact a few have been head-scratchers, and there is consternation among many fans for things like letting Michael Frolik get away, Chevy has done more good than bad.
Some have started to wonder if the right guy is pacing up and down the Jets bench.
Maurice is a tremendous story of an NHL long shot who’s made good. The very last draft pick of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, picked 252nd by the Philadelphia Flyers. He never played a game in the NHL, but by the age of 28 he was an NHL head coach.
Maurice has gone on to be a head coach in Hartford, Carolina, Toronto and Winnipeg and even took the Hurricances to the Stanley Cup final 15 years ago. Along the way, he also became the youngest coach to get to 1,000 games as an NHL head coach at the age of 43.
He is a student of the game, who will tell anyone that spending the season before joining the Jets as a coach in the KHL made him a better coach, he is also a tremendous man off the ice.
But the critics will suggest that while all of the above is true, one glaring fact is that he hasn’t really achieved any real sustained on-ice success anywhere.
In 1,283 NHL games coached, he has only managed 563 wins. In the equivalent of 16 full seasons as a coach, he has taken his teams to the playoffs only five times.
Even with the Jets, after getting buy-in on improved team defence after replacing Claude Noel halfway through the 2013-14 season and improving on that the following year, there was a decided step back last season.
And, let’s not forget the penalties. Over the last two seasons, the Jets have been the most penalized team in the league, and that lack of discipline has cost them in the win column.
So, will we see more of Maurice’s fair-to-middlin’ results in 2016-17? Well, maybe we should ask the man himself? The answer is concerning as reported by the Canadian Press’ Judy Owen in the spring: (Jets coach warns of more pain ahead)
Tempering expectations has become commonplace in Jets organization, and there is ample reason for caution, but fans are getting restless and want to start seeing this team’s collection of talent start to show results on the ice.
So, despite the warnings, and Maurice’s historical results, is this year’s incarnation of the team destined to inspire yet another “meh”?
Not at all. In fact, the Jack Adams winner is often a coach who has taken a team to unexpected levels of success, and if the stars aligned just right, that could be Winnipeg. A number of observers have suggested that the Jets are one of the teams who could make their way into the playoffs this season after last year’s 0-for-Canada result (Three-playoff-teams-who-could-miss-in-2016-17-and-three-non-playoff-teams-who-could-get-in).
It’s not that far-fetched. It starts with team defence, followed closely by goaltending. If they can see improvement in those two areas alone that would likely be enough to get them into the postseason.
Throw in an expected improved power play, especially if Patrik Laine becomes a lethal trigger man and an expected improved penalty kill, the addition of Shawn Matthias playing a big part in that – and some improved discipline – and there could be white outs in Winnipeg next spring.
If there aren’t, Maurice will be facing big expectations the next season, without the wiggle room he still enjoys to this point.