Claude Noel

Under Pressure: Claude Noel


“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Winnipeg Jets, we pick … head coach Claude Noel.

And we pick him the same day his boss, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, got a contract extension.

Noel got his own extension in June; however, the fact it was only for one year, taking him through the 2014-15 season, was telling. (An overwhelming vote of confidence, it was not.)

The Jets have missed the playoffs the past two seasons under Noel. And this summer, ownership committed millions of dollars in contract extensions ($93.1 million, to be exact) for defenseman Zach Bogosian and forwards Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. Which is why the general consensus is the coach cannot afford to miss the playoffs again.

Fair or not, much of Noel’s future with the organization may depend on the ability of his starting goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, to get the job done.

“I’m confident in our goaltending and I think our goaltending can help us get in the playoffs,” Noel said recently. “We’re going to have to play a good team game and our goalies are going to have to do their part.”

Pavelec registered a modest .905 save percentage last season, and his career number is just .907.

Of course, the coach’s future will also depend on his own ability to get the most out of a roster that features a decent amount of well-compensated talent. In addition to the previously mentioned Bogosian, Little, and Wheeler, the Jets also have Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom making healthy salaries.

Noel doesn’t play it safe when it comes to motivating his players, either. In February, he famously ripped the Jets after they got off to a 5-6-1 start.

“I don’t like the way we play,” he said. “I just don’t think that we play hard enough.”

And ahead of the 2013-14 campaign, Noel has been talking tough again.

“We’re going to need a lot more commitment from players on both sides of the puck,” he said — a comment the Winnipeg Sun called “a fairly strong indictment of the returning cast.”

With eight of their first 10 games at home at the MTS Centre, the Jets have a great opportunity to start strong and gather some momentum for the long season. Anything less and the man behind the bench may want to stay standing, because his seat could get pretty hot.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”