Jets Need New Blood Behind the Bench

The Winnipeg Jets and head coach Paul Maurice have agreed on a multi-year contract extension the club announced yesterday.

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Maurice was believed to be in the final year of his current contract that was set to expire at the end of the 2019-20 campaign and his future with the organization has been in question for a large part of the season – but you can question it no more.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice
Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Paul Maurice has been rewarded with a multi-year contract extension. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

I think it is fair to say fans are pretty close to a 50/50 split on whether or not Maurice should continue to lead this hockey team and for good reason – but I fall into the group that says this is a bad move and I will explain why.

The Good and the Bad

The good: Maurice helped turn the Jets around immensely when he took over the head coaching job during the 2013-14 season and has led them to the postseason the past two seasons, including a Western Conference Final appearance in the 2018 Playoffs against the Vegas Golden Knights.

The bad: the Jets limped into the playoffs last season and were not the same team we were used to seeing in 2017-18 and at the start of 2018-19.

I hear all the time the Jets lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champions so that makes it somewhat okay, which is a fair argument, sure. But my problem is the Jets had all the opportunities in the world to win the Central Division and face a wild card team rather than the St. Louis Blues. They also had a very strong group of defencemen last season as opposed to this season, so I’m not buying that excuse either.

St. Louis Blues Oskar Sundqvist
The Blues eliminated the Jets in six games during the 2019 Playoffs. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

Another one I hear this season is Maurice has led this year’s patchwork, injured team to a near playoff spot thus far. My argument is the Jets are currently near a playoff spot due to one man and that man is goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

Related: Jets Entering a Do-or-Die Homestand

The downward spiral of this teams’ play has been alarming since the halfway point of the 2018-19 season and I think you have to look closely at your head coach as the root of the problem.

Bad Outweighing the Good

For me, it comes down to what have you done for me lately and the answer is – not a whole lot. In a season that has seen six coaches get fired and one (Bill Peters) resigning, it amazes me to see Maurice get what is being reported as a three-year extension.

I was never a fan of firing him this season – I wanted the Jets to give him the rest of 2019-20 to see what he can do. But if things did not change fast – and they haven’t – move on in the offseason and find someone else. Don’t reward the guy with a multi-year extension.

The Jets’ special teams have been horrendous for large portions of the season; their scoring chances for and against are also ugly. The coach plays a large role in how well a teams’ power play or penalty kill run and the Jets have too much scoring talent to be in the middle of the pack on the man advantage. They also have some strong penalty killers and the best goalie in the league this year to be sitting near dead last with their penalty kill.

Winnipeg Jets Paul Maurice
All signs point to Maurice being the issue with this team. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Many of the deeper analytics surrounding this team are well below league average and they were during the back half of 2018-19 as well, when the team had all the talented defencemen in the world. That sounds like a coaching problem to me.

Potential Replacements

You are probably asking if I want Maurice gone next season, who is out there to replace him that can do a better job? That is a fair question.

My number one guy would be the obvious – Gerard Gallant – who has stated he is happy waiting out the rest of this season to enjoy time with family and to try and find the right fit in the offseason.

Gerard Gallant Vegas Golden Knights
Gerard Gallant was surprisingly fired by the Golden Knights on Jan. 15. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Why would he want to coach the Jets?

Another fair question and maybe he wouldn’t. But at the same time, maybe he would like to have a core of young talented goalscorers upfront, a Vezina-caliber goaltender to anchor the team, and an up-and-coming core of solid defencemen in Sami Niku, Ville Heinola, and Dylan Samberg.

If not Gallant, why not a younger up and comer in the American Hockey League, Canadian Hockey League, or NCAA with a new voice and fresh ideas?

 A prime example is the Toronto Maple Leafs who were struggling under Mike Babcock and brought in the young, successful Sheldon Keefe to replace him. The Leafs have since gone 21-9-4 with him as the head coach and he has been getting a lot more out of his top players after shuffling lines and bringing in new ideas.

With some proper due diligence, I feel the Jets would have been able to find their own up-and-coming coach, but now we will never know – at least not for the next few seasons.

Related: Jets’ 3 Biggest Underachievers

This team had way too much potential last season to collapse the way they did and the numbers have gotten even uglier this season. If not for Hellebuyck having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, the Jets would easily be near the bottom of the league standings. Would we still be sitting here today with a Maurice extension if not for number 37? Obviously we will never know but my gut tells me we would not. Maurice owes Hellebuyck a fancy steak dinner in my eyes.

Related: Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck – From Fifth Rounder to Shutouts Leader

The word mediocre has been thrown around a lot regarding Maurice and I think that hits the nail on the head. With a new voice and new ideas, who knows what potential this team could have had going forward.

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