The axe finally fell. For some, it couldn’t come soon enough. For others, they are very disappointed. Wherever you sit on this issue, there’s no turning back now. The Winnipeg Jets fired head coach Claude Noel, as well as assistant coach Perry Pearn. Replacing Noel, is former Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice, who was serving as a studio analyst for TSN.
The writing was on the wall after Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The final straw was Saturday night’s debacle, a 6-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jets showed absolutely nothing, and TV cameras caught the players tuning out Noel during a second period timeout.
There is no doubt Noel has to take some responsibility for his dismissal. But there are many problems that plague the Jets.
Goaltending continues to be a problem. Ondrej Pavelec has been, for a lack of a better term, brutal. A save percentage of .898 would make Stephane Beauregard blush. Pavelec does a poor job of tracking the puck and reading the play. He also has issues with positioning and relies too much on athleticism to make spectacular saves. Yes, Pavelec has made the Highlight of the Night on a few occasions, but he’s also made the Worst Play of the Day as well. That the Jets are locked in to Pavelec for another three years at $3.9 million should be worrisome to Jet fans.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff must take some blame as well. The man known as Chevy has done very little to upgrade the current roster, put his main focus on drafting young talent. While Chevy has had success with first rounders Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba putting a positive stamp on the roster, the rest of the draft choices are unproven, and will take 3-5 years to fully develop. Chevy has been very patient. Too patient. He has yet to trade an NHL roster player for an NHL roster player during his tenure. Besides signing core players such as Pavelec, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Andrew Ladd to contract extensions, all Chevy has done to try to upgrade the roster, is pluck players from the waiver wire. Trust me, James Wright, who was picked up on waivers from Columbus, did NOT improve this hockey team.
The players also must take responsibility as well. Whether they subscribed to Noel’s system, or had no use for it, the players have must take some heat for this decision. Wheeler had a strong December, but too often won’t use his 6-5 205 pound frame to his advantage. Ladd takes too many dumb penalties. Bogosian has been a major disappointment this season, which makes me wonder if he’s healthy. Dustin Byfuglien is incredibly talented. He’s one of the few Jets to record a positive Corsi (+3.4%) and Fenwick (+2.9%) numbers. However, Byfuglien has been guilty of too many careless giveaways in his own end, that have led to opposition goals. Byfuglien probably didn’t fit in with Noel’s system, and he may not be a right fit for the Jets. But he’s a big risk to trade. He was a major factor in Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup run, and would be a valuable asset to any Cup contending team. If the Jets decide to trade him, they better get full to above market value for him.
The core has taken lots of heat from the local media, (particularly from Winnipeg Free Press columnist Gary Lawless) but the bottom six might be the worst in the NHL. Wright has appeared in every game this season, but has ZERO GOALS this season. I repeat, ZERO GOALS!!!!!! What’s the difference between James Wright and an Air Miles card? At least an Air Miles card earns points. Chris Thorburn is nothing more than a face puncher, who loses more than he wins. Jim Slater spends more time on IR than on the ice. Eric Tangradi is just there. Granted, the bottom six forwards might be the most difficult part of the roster to build. But, surely there are better players out there that can fill those roles than the current collection of mediocrity the Jets are employing.
So what does this mean for the new guy? Paul Maurice has his most successful run in Carolina, where he led the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2002. He did have to deal with a goaltending controversy, as Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes were duelling for the number one job. Irbe eventually earned it, and the Hurricanes eliminated New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto, before running out of steam in the Finals against Detroit. Maurice will bring more sandpaper than Noel, who was accused of coddling the players too much. Maurice will use the 1-2-2 system but will also give his best players plenty of ice time. So expect plenty of Little, Ladd, Wheeler, along with Kane, Scheifele, Michael Frolik, on the ice for the Jets up front. Trouba, Byfuglien, Bogosian and Toby Enstrom will get the majority of the ice time, on the blue line. Maurice is loyal, sometimes to a fault, but he will reward players who perform up to his standards. He will ride the players hard and won’t take any lip from his charges. The players will be in for a bit of a shock when Maurice arrives in town.
The Winnipeg Jets won’t make the playoffs this season. The dismissal of Noel is the first sign that Jets management are preparing for next season. All eyes are on Cheveldayoff now, as the pressure shifts to him. He no longer has a security blanket to protect him. Chevy needs to overhaul this roster, and make sure the young prospects are being developed properly. If nothing changes, Chevy could be next on the unemployment line.
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