Winnipeg Jets Jingle
Before we start, it’s time for a song. A simple song really. One that everyone can join in. If you all know the famed Christmas Carol, The First Noel, then join right in.
The Claude Noel
His Jets Did Lay
A Fat Goose Egg
If This Continues
The Jets Won’t Play in May
In Rinks They Play
Like Little Lost Sheep
Which Makes The Fans
Fall Fast Asleep
Time to Fire Him
There’s No Time To Dwell.
While I’m not the first Winnipeg Jets fan to call for the dismissal of the floundering head coach, and I’m certain I won’t be the last, it is high time to say it. Claude Noel needs to go as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
Now that doesn’t mean that Noel shouldn’t have a job in professional hockey. I do see him as a decent assistant coach in the NHL, or a head coach in the AHL, a position he held in this very city, coaching the Manitoba Moose in their last season in Winnipeg. (2010-11) Noel could also serve as a scout to a team that could use an extra eye around the league. All that is fine. But as a head coach for an NHL team, Noel isn’t the right man.
Before we go back to Noel’s time with Winnipeg , let me take you back to the most recent Jets game, in which they lost 3-2 to the St. Louis Blues. With just under a minute to go in the third period, Noel pulls Ondrej Pavelec from the goal for the sixth attacker. Nothing out of the ordinary with that. The odd part was who the sixth attacker was. James Wright. No offence to Wright who brings his lunch pail to every game, and has helped improve the Jets penalty killing this season. (The Jets currently sit 10th in penalty killing with an 83% success rate) But at this point of the game, offence was the priority. Wright’s stats so far this season through 14 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, o points! Now explain this. How in the name of Kyle Wellwood does someone who can’t even get a secondary assist gets to be the extra attacker in a crucial point of the game? This make absolutely no sense to me.
Noel’s time in Winnipeg has been curious for the most part. Even his hiring raised eyebrows. There was no doubt that Noel was the favoured choice of Jets chairman Mark Chipman. After all, they do have a history dating back to the Moose days as mentioned earlier. However, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff wanted Mike Haviland to be the first coach of the franchise, since the move from Atlanta. But this is Chipman’s team and his guy was chosen.
The first year in Winnipeg, as we all know, was the honeymoon period. People here, (myself included) were happy just to have a team back. The Winnipeg Jets were an average team, going 37-35-10, finishing fourth in the weak Southeast Division, thus missing the playoffs. Last year in the lockout shortened season, the Jets finished second in the Southeast, going 24-21-3, missing the playoffs for the second straight year since the move.
This season, the pressure has been amped up. The fans are demanding a playoff berth. Realignment stepped in, and the Jets were shuffled off to the Central Division, joining the likes of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis and an improving Colorado Avalanche side. The Jets right now are 5-7-2 and are sixth in the division, only one point up on the basement-dwelling Dallas Stars.
The team hasn’t really improved that much under Noel’s guidance. In fact, the argument could be made that the Jets have regressed slightly. Some blame does need to go to management for not making the proper upgrades to the roster. There are still 12 players left from the Atlanta Thrasher days. The same Thrashers who made one playoff appearance in their 11 seasons in Dixie, and failed to even win a postseason game. That’s a legacy to forget.
Still, Noel hasn’t helped his own cause either. The power play has been simply atrocious the last two seasons. The Winnipeg Jets are currently 26th with the man advantage, with a putrid 11.1% success rate. In the 2012-13 season, the Jets were dead last on the power play, with a 13.8% success rate. Noel and his assistants, (Perry Pearn and Pascal Vincent) have done little in terms of adjustments and keep throwing out the same units in hopes that things will turn around.
Then there’s the issue of how Noel handles his goalies. Ondrej Pavelec has been anointed as the Jets number one goalie since 2011. Yet, his inconsistency continues to frustrate Jet fans. In 2011-12, Pavelec appeared in 68 out of 82 games, recording a 2.91 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Last season, the Czech Republic native appeared in 44 out of 48 games, registering a 2.80 goals against average and a .905 save percentage. This season so far, Pavelec has made 12 appearances, and has put up a 2.87 goals against average and a .909 save percentage. All of these are undistinguished numbers at best, mediocre numbers at worst. What is more baffling is that Noel keeps putting Pavelec in goal on consecutive nights. Pavelec’s numbers, as mentioned in a previous post, are putrid in those situations, compiling a 4.11 goals against average with a .882 save percentage. Noel did the right thing on the most recent back-to-back situation, by putting Al Montoya between the pipes. While the Jets lost to Colorado, Montoya was excellent, stopping 33 out of 36 shots for a save percentage of .917. Now, is Pavelec getting the bulk of the action because of his contract? The Jets are paying him $3.9 million over the next four years. Montoya, on the other hand is making $601,000 this season, and is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Could it be pressure from up above or is Noel in love with Pavelec, despite his uneven performances?
Another problem that has emerged is Noel’s dealing with younger players, specifically Mark Scheifele and Alexander Burmistrov. The case of Burmistrov is different from most. We all know that the talented Russian decided to sign with AK Bars Kazan of the KHL this season, where he has tallied 5 goals and 15 assists in 23 games this season. From all reports, Burmistrov has been an excellent addition to his new team. Granted, the problems with Burmistrov stem back to the Atlanta days, where the previous regime rushed him into the NHL. It was too much to ask out of the young Russian at that time. When the franchise relocated, Noel wanted Burmistrov to play a different style of game, more defensive in his approach. Burmistrov balked and saw his chance to bolt to the KHL. This despite the fact that Burmistrov’s Corsi numbers were outstanding, (Burmistrov’s +48 Corsi was the best on the Jets last season.) In other words, when Burmistrov was on the ice last season, the Jets directed 48 more shots to the opposition goal, than had shots directed towards their goal. Simply, more shots leads to more scoring opportunities leads to more goals. Would that have been useful the other night in St. Louis?
Scheifele has come to Winnipeg amidst high expectations. The first ever draft pick of the Jets lit up the preseason in 2011-12, but has failed to translate that into regular season success. Noel hasn’t helped the situation much. This season alone, Scheifele has seen his ice-time fluctuate while going through different linemates from game to game, sometimes even shift to shift. Noel has to determine who Scheifele plays best with, and stick with that combination, even if they have a bad shift. The Jets can’t risk the future of the franchise losing his confidence, because of Noel’s constant line juggling.
Now some would suggest a trade is a better way to shake up the team. Well the salary cap and the Jets contract situation makes it difficult to pull off a deal. The Jets are only $1.55 million under the cap and any trade would put them right up against the cap. With many teams dealing with cap issues, thanks to the cap going down after the lockout, a trade to help the team will be very tricky. The Jets have 8 main players locked up for over 3 years, so while they won’t have to worry about trying to re-sign their own players, it makes change difficult because there won’t be many teams willing to take on the salaries of someone like Toby Enstrom, Blake Wheeler or Dustin Byfuglien. The cap will go up next season so the chance of a trade will go up , or perhaps a deal at the trade deadline is possible, but a ground-shaking move right now seems highly unlikely.
Jets management fully believes this team can make the playoffs. Right now, the Jets aren’t a playoff team. Change is in order. If the Jets really want to see postseason action, their only move is to make a change behind the bench.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973 for more Winnipeg Jets coverage