Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Winnipeg Jets.
It’s rare that you become the second-most active tenured coach in the NHL by mistake, but don’t tell some folks in Winnipeg that.
Every position in hockey, from the ones on the ice, to those behind the bench and all the way up the hockey operations ladder, suffers from the same questions evenutally: What have you done for me lately?
And that’s where we find Jets bench boss Paul Maurice these days.
A polarizing figure among fans, especially after the way this past season played out, it’s one of hockey’s longest-serving coaches — or all-time losingest coach, too his detractors — that finds himself in the crosshairs entering this season.
It’s fair to say that Maurice faces his toughest season to date this coming year. He led the Jets to their first playoff appearance in 2.0 history in his first full season behind the bench after taking over for the fired Claude Noel.
He then oversaw the team’s transition into their youth revolution, ultimately leading them to a 114-point season and an appearance in the Western Conference Final in 2017-18.
But when expectations were at their peak last year, the team imploded down the back nine and threw up a dud against the eventual Stanley Cup champs in Round 1 of the playoffs.
Given any more time to slide, it’s plausible that the Jets could have missed the playoffs entirely. Fortunately for them, the regular season mercifully ended at 82 games.
The questions, however, did not.
As much as captain Blake Wheeler said that the first finger pointed should be directed at him, in actuality, it’s Maurice who is the deserving recipient.
A stubbornness to split up both Wheeler and Scheifele meant that duo spent more time on the ice than was ideal. When the playoffs arrived, the tank was running on ‘E’ and neither made big impacts.
There’s also the continued failed attempts at making Patrik Laine and Bryan Little work on the second line. It hasn’t happened in Laine’s three years in the league, and Laine’s down year can, at least in some respects, be attributed to that.
And, of course, there was that final half of the season where the Jets went from being a first-place team to a bottom-third squad inside three months.
While some of this falls on the players, there’s an axiom in sports that you can’t fire the players.
Coaches don’t get the same assurances.