On Jan. 12, after the team dropped their fifth straight game of 2014, the Winnipeg Jets fired head coach Claude Noel. Replacing him behind the Jets bench is 46-year-old veteran Paul Maurice, who has coached a total of 14 NHL seasons with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Concerns have been raised regarding Maurice’s hiring: namely, his (at the time of hiring) losing record as head coach of 460-457-167. While these worries are legitimate, I am of the opinion that Maurice is the right man for the job. During his first tenure with the Whalers and Hurricanes, from 1997-2004, Maurice was able to develop a number of young skaters into complete players.
Forwards such as Bates Battaglia, Sami Kapanen, Erik Cole, and Jeff O’Neill, as well as defenceman Marek Malik, thrived under his tutelage. He also drew out the best in his unheralded veterans, such as Rod Brind’Amour, Glen Wesley, and captain Ron Francis.
The leadership Maurice brought resulted in four consecutive winning seasons, from 1998-2002. His hard work also culminated in an underdog appearance in the 2002 Stanley Cup.
The current-day Winnipeg Jets remind me quite a bit of his former team. Big play veterans that mimic the former Hurricanes squad, such as Andrew Ladd, Olli Jokinen, Blake Wheeler, and Dustin Byfuglien will benefit from Maurice’s vision and coaching style. In his first three games as head coach, the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native has shown an increased participation level on the bench, actively communicating with players after their shifts – something Noel neglected.
Young stars such as Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele will only get better with a seasoned mind helping them out. Scheifele has four points in three games since Maurice has arrived, while Trouba has three points, as well as a plus/minus of +6.
Hardworking, underrated players such as Michael Frolik, Chris Thorburn, and Devin Setoguchi may find the biggest improvement with the new bench boss. Frolik has been brought up to the first line with Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd. The three seem to have found an immediate chemistry. Setoguchi snapped his five-game scoring drought in the first game with Maurice as coach, and has elevated his physicality, along with Thorburn.
Maurice is a student of the game. He will analyse all of the little things that the Jets have lacked, including a consistent scoring touch. In two of his first three games, Winnipeg was able to put up five goals, something they did only seven times all year under Noel.
This is also not the first time Maurice has come in as a mid-season replacement. In the 2008-09 season, he replaced Peter Laviolette after 25 games. Maurice led the team to a 33-19-5 record, their first berth in the playoffs since 2006, and an appearance in the conference final.
His experience is also a factor. On Nov. 28, 2010, he became the youngest coach in history to coach 1,000 NHL games.
Maurice’s commitment to the team is evident, especially in his post-game comments following an overtime victory over Edmonton on Saturday.
“I’ve been here for a week. They showed up the first day, they looked like good players, and nothing’s changed my mind.”
With a passionate coach taking over a team that has shown flashes of promise, it’s my opinion that there is no reason that the Jets cannot be successful under Maurice.