It’s the oldest mantra in the profession: coaches are hired to be fired. In his long coaching career, Paul Maurice knows it well.
Perhaps it’s an unfair saying, as coaches can’t do anything but work with the talent their GM assembles, but it has proven true many times. When a team struggles, the coach gets the axe first. After all, you can’t fire an entire team.
Yet the Winnipeg Jets, two years removed from their last playoff appearance, have yet to do to Maurice what so many other underperforming NHL teams have done in that span: fire their coach.
The first year the Jets missed the playoffs can be forgiven or written off as a string of bad luck outside of the coach’s control. After all, Maurice was just one year removed from the Jets’ first playoff games in Winnipeg. That season wasn’t likely to get him a ticket out of town.
This past year the Jets had mediocre goaltending at best, defensive woes stemming in part from a rash of injuries on the back end (to say nothing of the rash of injuries of up front) and inconsistent…well, everything.
Whether some of these problems, namely inconsistency, can be laid at the feet of the coaching staff is worth discussing but nobody is suggesting Maurice should be held accountable for the Jets’ stampede to the sick bay.
And the goaltending? Even the best coaches can only work with what they’re given. Neither Michael Hutchinson nor Connor Hellebuyck gave Maurice a firm leg to stand on through most of the season.
— Ted Wyman (@Ted_Wyman) June 24, 2017
That said, the excuses are drying up for Maurice and company; by the way, ‘company’ includes GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Consider him to be on the hot seat as well. Still, the axe falls first and hardest on the coach in these situations. With his contract extension still up in the air, Maurice has to be a bit concerned about2017-18.
Expectations in Winnipeg have rarely been higher. They may be artificially inflated thanks to the team’s amazing run at the end of last year but Jets fans have a renewed sense of optimism heading into this year, and if the optimism isn’t met with results, the fans will be looking for someone to blame. History shows us that someone will likely be the coach.
Increased Depth Everywhere
I’d make the case that, even going back to the days where the Thrashers had Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa, the franchise has never iced a team this deep.
Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine are safe bets for thirty goals, and I’d venture to say Laine is a good bet to hit 40 this year. Two others, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, could get over 70 points and will certainly flirt with 30 goals as they did last year.
Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault provide veteran scoring depth and a steadying hand in all three zones. Kyle Connor will likely make an offensive impact right away in the top six, and if he doesn’t, he’ll still be a key contributor on the third line. The Jets forward depth is not in question.
Come @ me, bros.
— Alistair Mowat (@alistair_mowat) July 7, 2017
The blue line is healthy again and features one of the best right sides in the NHL with Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. The left side, while lacking the strength of the right, is newly reinforced by Dmitry Kulikov.
And in goal, the Jets have the closest thing they’ve had to an established NHL tandem in years. Whether Steve Mason steals the show or Hellebuyck ends up developing as the Jets hope he will, the goaltending situation is brighter than it’s been in a long time.
With that in mind, Maurice is the man tasked with pulling it all together.
This is not a rebuilding year for the Jets. This is not a year to be dominated by growing pains (though some are still going to happen). This is a year for winning.
If winning doesn’t happen this year, somebody is going to pay for it. The Jets were not as far from a playoff spot last year as their inconsistent play likely indicated (though, again, their seven game winning streak helped this) and they should make strides this year.
The team lost no major pieces to expansion. The Central Division, on paper at least, is more wide open than it has ever been. There’s genuine optimism among the fan base regarding playoff potential. If that optimism is satisfied, Maurice can relax. Nobody fires the coach of a winning team, after all, and his past mistakes can be forgotten.
If that optimism is stifled, however, Maurice is in trouble. The voices who cried loudest for his departure last year will cry louder still, and questions about his usage of certain players over the years will become more insistent.
A common critique of Maurice among the more disgruntled Jets fans (who grow in number every year) is that he is a poor evaluator of talent and doesn’t manage the skilled players he has well. He puts skilled young players in a position to fail, gives the wrong people promotions and power play time, and relies too heavily on grittier types. This year will be a true test. Because if he doesn’t get results with this collection of talent, then the Jets will be asking some hard questions. The lineup is there to be molded, and now Maurice has to make it work. Otherwise, the team will find someone who can.