Manitoba·Blog

Is Paul Maurice the answer the Winnipeg Jets are looking for?

With Paul Maurice on the brink of starting his first full season as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, will past experience be enough to change the future of a team still void of a playoff berth following three failed seasons in Winnipeg?

RAW VIDEO: Paul Maurice looks ahead to Winnipeg Jets' 2014-15 season

8 years ago
Duration 0:47
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice talks to reporters about what fans can expect from the team in the upcoming 2014-15 NHL season.

He's the youngest NHL head coach to hit 1,000 games, he's battled the hot seat as former coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he's been to the final dance, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2002 Stanley Cup final as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.

But for Paul Maurice, on the brink of starting his first full season as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, will past experience be enough to change the future of a Jets team still void of a playoff berth following three failed seasons in Winnipeg?

That will be the biggest question looming over the team's collective heads, from top management to coaches to the players who make up the final roster.

So it would be completely understandable for the Jets' bench boss to feel a little under the gun, especially as he made his way to the podium to address the media for the first time following the opening day of training camp Thursday.

But instead, it was the same confident, calculated Maurice that Jets media and fans have come to expect ever since he took over the reigns from former coach Claude Noel midway through last season.

"Walked down and got a coffee," said Maurice, cool as a cucumber, when asked what the first thing he did when he got in today.

Pretty calm for a guy who is about to embark on a season where his team is one of seven clubs in arguably the league's toughest group, ever; which could be easily referred to as the group of death, or what we know it as, the Central Division.

Aiming high

But that didn't refrain the 47-year-old Maurice from aiming high when asked to look into his crystal ball and reveal where he sees his team in the future.

"My goal for this year and for every year, but for this year especially, is to start the process of this team and this organization becoming a contending team, a top-10 team," said Maurice, who finished 15-12-5 last season with the Jets, including an impressive 9-2 start.

"Day one of camp is the beginning of that process."

Optimistic? Sure. But Maurice isn't crazy.

He knows better than anyone that it's going to take a lot of work. He understands the team is young, that on nights they'll be susceptible to mistakes.

But in order for this team to move forward, Maurice admits it has to begin with improving the back end.

"No Stanley Cup champion ranks in the top 10 for everything, but the one area that's consistent is they're good defensively, and we're talking from a goals against strictly point-of-view," he said. "We have to be a better defensive team."

When asked to evaluate the type of talent he has to do that just, the group of guys already a day into camp, Maurice noted the team was "still in the discovery of that."

"It's an unusual dynamic," was the way he put it.  "We're finding out who we are."

Who we are?

Of the many challenges the Jets face this season, answering that question may just be the toughest job Maurice has all year. To date, no one really knows who this team is or what they stand for.

Under Noel, it was supposed to be blue-collar hockey. You know, the kind of crash-and-bang stuff that's supposed to raise the butts of 15,000-plus fans every home game.

That didn't seem to work as the Jets were mostly out-hustled and outplayed for much of the Noel regime, resulting in his exit after a modest 80-79-18 record through two and a half seasons.

But Maurice is nothing like his predecessor.

He's proven more calm and able when it comes to keeping his emotions in check. He refuses to share any coach-to-player conversation outside the room. He's also more experienced coaching at the NHL level, with hundreds of more games on his resume.

But most importantly, he has the eyes and ears of every player in the room, something Noel lost over his tenure, and perhaps never fully had. 

And one thing is clear: the players believe in their new man.

It was this sentiment expressed by the players at the end of last season, and echoed once again just days ago as camp crept closer.

To the Jets, it didn't matter that they were unable to attract top free agents in the off-season like most of their division rivals. No, because the most important move came in the form of a four-year deal for Maurice.

Mr. Fix-it

It's clear the Jets organization believes Maurice is the tool needed to fix this team, to improve both culturally and on the ice.

But will he be enough to get the most out of superstar Evander Kane? Will he be able to push Ondrej Pavelec back to the land of respectability?

Tough questions. But for Maurice, the answers come rather easily.

When pressed on Blake Wheeler's Twitter comments about Kane's leadership last week, Maurice called it a message "accurate to all of us in the room."

He even describes Kane's reply where he used the hashtag "find me at the top of the circle" as "hilarious" and "vintage."

As for Pavelec, instead of placing blame like we've seen many coaches do in the past, he expressed confidence in his go-to guy. He even made note of a mutual goal: to make Pavelec a "great No.1."

"People will focus on 'they need to be better,'" said Maurice. "That happens in every town and to every hockey team that either didn't make the playoffs or fell short of expectations."

When asked when this team could expect to finally make the post-season, Maurice said, "That can't be part of the conversation today. I'll tell you what we're going to do. We're going to work our butts off in training camp to get better. I can guarantee you that."

As for everything else, we'll just have to wait for the answers, including whether Maurice is the answer the Jets are looking for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Hamilton

Winnipeg Jets

Jeff Hamilton is an award-winning journalist born and raised in Winnipeg. Jeff is a graduate of the Carleton University journalism program and has worked for CBC in Ottawa and Manitoba. This will be his second year covering his hometown team. Jeff is passionate about hockey, playing and has studied the game his entire life.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now