For the first time since they left Winnipeg in 1996, the Jets were able to give their fans playoff hockey as they battled their way into the 2015 NHL Playoffs. With that, the fans brought back the Winnipeg ‘White Out’ and while it only lasted one round, it was a great moment for the franchise.
But the players aren’t the only ones to thank for this valiant effort. Some of that credit has to go to the men standing behind the bench – the men (or women) in suits. In this case, some of that credit has to be given to head coach Paul Maurice.
As the word would suggest, Maurice has always been one of the most underrated coaches to step behind an NHL bench. In fact, he could be considered a journeyman of sorts when it comes to NHL coaches. From his days in Hartford and the move to Carolina to Toronto and Winnipeg, Maurice has always paid his dues.
In fact, getting back into the NHL – after his second stint with the Hurricanes – even meant a trip to the KHL. There, he coached Metallurg Magnitogorsk to a 27-13-12 record – bowing out of the playoffs in the conference quarterfinals.
No matter where he ended up, Maurice seemed to ask for the same hard work from his players that he put in. And his teams were always rewarded.
Flying the Jets into the Playoff Storm
Throughout this season, Maurice was brought up in numerous Jack Adams discussions. As Eric Duhatschek of the National Post writes, he played a role in shaping one of the most surprising teams in the NHL.
“With apologies to the New York Islanders, the Jets may be the single biggest surprise story in the NHL this season,” wrote Duhatschek in late January.
“Maurice has made a significant difference in the way the team plays, especially on defence – they are No. 5 in the NHL after finishing 22nd overall defensively last year,” continued Duhatschek.
Since taking over in 2013-14, Maurice has coached the Jets to a 61-38-18 record in 117 games. This season, the team finished with 43 wins and 99 points. Maurice recorded his 500th career win – becoming one of just 21 NHL coaches to reach that milestone and only one of eight active coaches to hit that mark.
So happy for Paul Maurice to be back in the playoffs. A terrific man and a coach of the year candidate in Winnipeg.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) April 10, 2015
But what made the Jets’ run so impressive this season wasn’t just what they did on the ice, but what they had to deal with away from the ice as well.
Evander Kane and Backend Injuries
It was no secret that former Jets forward, Evander Kane, had some off-ice issues with the club. From rumours of his wanting out of Winnipeg that started in October 26, 2011, to his money phone picture on December 19, 2012, Kane’s been at the centre of numerous stories during his short career.
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) December 19, 2012
Even during the most recent lockout, after being the first Canadian-born player to sign in the KHL, he lasted just 12 games with Dinamo Minsk before the two sides mutually parted ways.
But the tipping point came this past February when stories started swirling as to why Kane was a healthy scratch in his hometown of Vancouver. It was later revealed that it was because of an incident with his teammates in which they were trying to send the young player a message.
Following his choice to opt for surgery, Kane was dealt near the deadline to Buffalo along with Zach Bogosian for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick – essentially ending the soap opera that was Kane’s time in Winnipeg.
But to go along with the dramatic on-and-off of the Kane questions, the Jets also had to deal with a number of injuries and absences down the stretch – most of which affected the team’s blue line.
Throughout March, they lost Matt Halischuk (lower body), Tyler Myers (concussion), Paul Postma (lower body), Grant Clitsome (back) with Dustin Byfuglien (upper body), Mathieu Perreault (lower body) and Bryan Little (upper body) all missing some time down the stretch as well.
If that wasn’t enough, Dustin Byfuglien received a four-game suspension from an April 1 cross-checking incident against the Rangers’ J.T. Miller. All of this happened while the Jets were still battling for one of the final playoff spots.
Each game down the stretch became a must-win affair. And when they needed it, the team came together to win those games and force their way into the postseason. But what creates the culture in a dressing room, is often a trickle-down effect. It starts from the top (management and coaches) and runs through the players.
In the article by Duhatschek, Jets defenceman Jay Harrison – who played for Maurice in both Carolina and Toronto – described his coach as “dedicated to his craft … a professor of the game. His love for the game comes through with everything he does, and guys rally around it. It’s inspiring.”
While the Jets may not have been a high pick for contending teams, the point is, Maurice managed to get his team to play their absolute best in a playoff-bound season. In most cases, that’s enough for Jack Adams consideration. That’s why Maurice, according to some, was deserving of a Jack Adams vote.
For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his THW column at @Tape2TapeTHW.