by Scott Swail
Well, if you survived last night’s debacle in St. Paul, you woke up this morning and found that today ushed in a brand new day. I’m sure Paul Maurice woke up checking his email to see if there was anything from the Management that said, “Paul, let’s meet for coffee.” Most of us have had one of those conversations in our lives. As a coach, that’s kind of the drill. He’s had that cup of coffee three times before in the NHL—twice with the same team. I’m sure he is already deciding whether he wants a Grande or Venti.
On social media, there are people blasting Maurice and also protecting him. It is either his fault or the fault of the players. Newsflash: it’s everyone’s fault right now. With five straight losses (not insurmountable to any degree, but the level of play is disturbing), there is pressure to do something. No one knows what is going on with Wheeler and all of the sudden the top six must have taken some Ambien, because they sure look like they are sleeping out there.
I like Paul Maurice. His pressers are the most interesting in the league, from both a fun level (he is a dry, funny guy) and also from a level of intellect (he lets you in on the thinking). But I’ve said for four years he wasn’t the guy to take us to the next level. Maybe I’m wrong. But the play of this team at the end of last year and the start of this year suggests otherwise. This team, on paper, is top shelf. Sure, we don’t have a Connor McDavid but we have so many other weapons. Kyle Connor is showing his net worth in a big way, but right now I think the weight on his shoulders is massive. He is trying to carry the team.
The critical thing to understand about a coach is that he, with his staff, set up all the on-ice systems for the team. Some people seem to think that the players simply go out there are free-form it. Professional hockey is a system of systems, from how the puck leaves the zone, how a team gets through neutral ice, how it enters the opposition zone, how 5-on-5 should work, as well as the PK and the PP. All a systems approach. And this is on the coach. Sure, the players have to executive, but it is clear the systems are not working. If you are an opposing team, you need to know two things when playing Winnipeg: (1) forecheck the hell out of them; and (b) get the Jets to take penalties because you’ll score given their 31st in the league PK. That’s a pretty easy game plan. If you do the first and frustrate the players, the second will happen in a big way, and that is exactly what we’ve seen.
And this is all about the systems, which makes it all about Paul Maurice, Charlie Huddy, and the rest of the crew, even Adam Lowry’s dad, who will also likely be gone when the axe falls. The Jets management is incredibly conservative and they don’t want to make a mid-season move. Only half of me thinks they will. That stated, if this streak goes on for another 2-3 games, they won’t have much of a choice, and it would seem that either Randy Carlyle or Bruce Boudreau would be available candidates. If they could suck up recent sexual misconduct-related issues, Joel Quenneville is also available and Chevy knows him well. Too soon, perhaps? Q would be my first pick to come in here and shake things up, but even if there is an opening, he probably has a back door agreement with Florida. Carlyle has won a cup with Anaheim and is well liked in Winnipeg as a player and coach. Boudreau is a good coach who almost won it all in Washington a decade ago. BTW, this is the first time in 2.0 history that I’ve seen the Jets putting on seat sales because they aren’t selling out (on average 1,500 seats available per game this year). This translates to over $2M in revenue per game, a significant impact that could become a serious financial problem, circa 1996, if they aren’t mindful of these events.
What is perhaps most concerning was that last night’s game was the one to bounce back from after a humbling game against Columbus. And Columbus was the bounce back game after Pittsburgh, which was humbling after Vancouver. You get the trend. Simply humbling with no bounce.
But Winnipeg didn’t respond. They had lots of shots on goals, but as we’ve learned, shots matter little when originating from the blue line. I noticed that Minnesota often had two people in front of Hellebuyck, then Comrie. We often didn’t have anyone in front of the Minnesota net. That’s systems play, folks.
I feel bad for the Jets because their weekend is likely to get a lot worse tonight, because the Calgary Flames are on fire (no pun intended). The Flames have won four in a row, scoring 19 goals in four games, and start the game with four days of rest. They will be salivating to play a team that is a back-to-back at the end of a short road trip. If you thought last night was bad, it could be equally worse tonight. Perhaps they will surprise us; but Winnipeg will be tired and they have no new tools to enter the game.
FDR bravely told a nation 80 years ago that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. The Jets have fear. Itself.
I’ll take cream and Splenda, please. Paul, what can I get you?