The chips have begun to fall for the Winnipeg Jets.
With both head coach Claude Noel and assistant bench boss, Perry Pearn, given their walking papers Sunday morning, the task of the Jets front office evolves from bringing in change to putting the pieces back together.
At 19-23-5 this year, the Jets are dead last in the Central Division, and the potential of making the playoffs are just weeks away from being no more than a mere mathematical equation.
So when Jets general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, came out to address the herd of media just hours after Noel’s release, the message was simple.
“It became apparent over the last little while that things were not trending in the right direction and we were going to have to do something to try and move things back in to a fashion of moving forward,” he said.
Bringing in experience
Cheveldayoff noted Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay as the starting point of talks with Noel’s new replacement, Paul Maurice, a former coach for the Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ultimately, the moves came following the Jets fifth straight loss, a Saturday night stinker that ended with a 6-3 score in favour of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What began as brief chat with Maurice Tuesday night to feel out the idea of coming to Winnipeg, turned into a meeting with ownership following Saturday’s loss, which transitioned in to a long chat with Maurice that lasted into the night. It was that call that resulted in what Cheveldayoff referred to as a “verbal handshake over the phone.”
“Hiring Paul Maurice is something that we feel very good about as far as the opportunity we have to hire an experienced National Hockey League coach to come in here and certainly begin putting his stamp on the team,” said Cheveldayoff.
But what exactly is the stamp Maurice, a guy whose resume includes over a 1000 games of .500 hockey (460-457-167), will bring to a club and a city that’s sick of mediocrity?
There’s no real answer to that question. At least not yet.
But Maurice and the rest of Jetsland will have a close eye on their new saviour when he takes his spot behind the bench Monday night in his debut will against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Now, it’s easy to suggest he’ll fail. It’s almost borderline crazy to think he’ll succeed.
But results won’t be the deciding factor for Cheveldayoff to whether or not he should ink his new guy a long-term contract. What he’s looking for from Maurice is the ability to reach to a new level with the players, something Noel just couldn’t do in his tenure with the Jets.
“You need someone that can get to the players, that can teach to them, that can actually get their message across and get the players to unite,” said the Jets GM.
“As a coach at the National Hockey League level, one of the talents that you have to possess is being able to unite all those different thoughts, feelings, talents, skills and push them in the right direction. If that means being harder sometimes, then yeah, do that. If that means sitting down and spending a little more time with them, you have to do that.”
Troubled locker room
This task, however, won’t be an easy one.
The Jets locker room hasn’t exactly been the ideal environment for coaches over the past two and a half seasons. And you wouldn’t have to look back very far to see that.
Remember when forward Evander Kane threw Noel under the bus prior to a game a game against the Chicago Blackhawks back on Nov. 6 over an argument to whether he was a healthy scratch?
Or how about when Dustin Byfuglien was asked about his switch to forward from defence prior to Saturday’s game? Instead of giving his coach a boost of confidence in his decision, he mumbled the words, “It is what it is.”
Indeed, it is what it is and right now the Jets are a work in progress. Will a new face necessarily mean a new direction towards success?
I guess we’ll have to wait to see where the chips fall.