“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.