Earlier today, the Winnipeg Jets held a surprise news conference to announce they have reached an agreement with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff on a five-year contract extension. Governor Mark Chipman told the media throng at the MTS Centre:
“I’m confident we’re on the right track. In some respects, I feel like we’re just getting started. One of the biggest parts of our plan is having its future in the hands of Kevin Cheveldayoff. I also believe that the fans of our organization are deserving to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. They invest considerably in what we’re about.”
In other words, Cheveldayoff has done his job. Now it is time for the players and coaches to do theirs. Make no mistake about it, the Jets goal is to make the playoffs this year, and if they don’t, coach Claude Noel could very well be on the unemployment line.
Remember, Noel only got a one-year extension from the Jets brass in the offseason. There were reports of a riff between Noel and Alexander Burmistrov during the shortened 2012-13 season. While it was denied by both parties (Burmistrov’s agent didn’t deny the story), Burmistrov did leave the Jets to sign with AK Bars Kazan of the KHL in the summer.
Burmistrov’s departure sparked questions around the Jets coach. Was he able to handle young players? Can he have good relationships with promising prospects Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele? How do the veterans feel about Noel and his coaching methods?
For the most part, the players have defended Noel publicly. They have said all the right things about their coach, thus relieving any sort of drama that the media and fans crave to know. But there are times where Noel’s message falls on deaf ears.
In last night’s preseason tilt against a skeleton Edmonton Oilers crew, the Jets built a 3-0 lead with 4:25 left in the third period. Everything looked rosy for the Jets. However, the
Oklahoma City Barons Oilers came roaring back with two goals in a span of 23 seconds, to make the ending very interesting. The Jets still struggle with defensive zone coverage, (I’m looking at you Paul Postma) which has been an ongoing issue since the franchise arrived from Atlanta in 2011. Noel has preached about being better defensively, but the numbers don’t show it.
The Jets ranked 25th in the NHL, conceding 2.94 goals per game in 2012-13. The year before, the Jets ranked 26th in the NHL, surrendering 2.95 goals per game. Technically the Jets did improve on this stat, but only by 0.01 goals. That’s not even close to a marked improvement.
Sure there are legitimate excuses. Ondrej Pavelec isn’t consistent enough. The defence was saddled with the likes of Ron Hainsey. Injuries to Zach Bogosian and Toby Enstrom didn’t help either. Dustin Byfuglien roams up the ice too much. All of that is true. But at some point, there needs to be signs of growth and maturity and so far, that hasn’t happened with Noel behind the bench.
What also isn’t helping Noel is the Central Division. The likes of Chicago and St. Louis are the leaders of the pack, while Minnesota, Dallas and Nashville are on the upswing. This is a very tough division where defence is at a premium.
So with that being said, this is a make or break year for Claude Noel. He knows the seat he’s sitting on is quite warm. The honeymoon in Winnipeg is now over. Time for the Jets to make a move, or for Noel to move on.
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