WINNIPEG – Claude Noel may have fishing on his mind with the NHL season done for his team, but the Winnipeg Jets coach doesn’t want to be breaking out the rod and reel this soon next year.
“The bar has got to go up and we have to raise it,” Noel said Sunday. “I was real patient this year, which was real good for me and I think it was good for the team.
“I’ll be less patient next year.”
The Jets, who played as the Atlanta Thrashers last season, finished 22nd in the NHL at 37-35-10 and missed the playoffs—again. The franchise made only one playoff appearance in 12 seasons in Atlanta, bowing out in the first round in 2007 to the New York Rangers.
Reborn as the Jets, the team played to packed houses at every home game at the MTS Centre, made more money for their owners than expected and certainly don’t have to worry about fan support next season.
“The boys are building up a team,” fan Chris Nelson said Saturday night as Winnipeg lost its season finale, 4-3 to Tampa Bay in overtime.
“Give us a couple of years we’ll be deep in the playoffs I think when we develop some players.”
The only issue fans have is the scarcity of tickets for the NHL’s smallest arena, but for Noel and the players, the season has ended far too soon.
“We don’t want to be standing here in April next year going down this same path,” Noel said. “Things have to change. The first thing for me is we have to be better. Our attitude has to be better.
“I think we’re getting there. That’s what I want them to think about over the summer.”
He singled out team captain Andrew Ladd for special praise as the kind of role model others on the team should look to imitate.
“We’ll be leaning on him but he needs more than just him, he needs others to come along,” Noel said. “The task that I have is to mould and shape those others.”
Ladd, who didn’t miss a game this season and finished with 50 points, thinks the Jets might need more depth up front but adds it’s about getting players to work more effectively as a team.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “We have a lot of good pieces and it’s just trying to find how to put the pieces together.”
Ladd won’t be putting his skates away just yet. Along with Evander Kane, who scored 30 goals and had 57 points this season, he will play for Canada in the world championships.
The Jets were a lot stronger at home (23-13-5) with screaming fans at their back than they were on the road (14-22-5) this season.
Noel he says the disparity between the team’s performance on the road and at home is unacceptable.
“It’s not so much the road, it’s just the way that we think and we play,” Noel said. “It’s the mentality and that’s really what has to take hold next year, right from training camp, and it will because it will be mapped out and I will be pushing harder and expecting more.”
Centre Bryan Little played four seasons in Atlanta and says he saw growth in 2011-12.
“A lot of guys individually improved a lot this season. Kane, (Alexander) Burmistrov, (Zach Bogosian), all those guys, they’re young guys and they had really good seasons,” Little said. “They’re only going to get better.”
He wouldn’t say whether they need to add to that talent pool but he agreed the team has to find a way to play more consistently.
“You can say we needed a bit more scoring or this and that but, at the end of the day, we felt like we had a team to make the playoffs this year and that didn’t happen,” he said.
“We had stretches this year where we didn’t play well and stretches where we played really well. If we’re going to make the playoffs next year I think we have to be more consistent over the next season.”
The team also has a lot of free agents to deal with during the off-season.
Those asked Sunday said they want to remain, but a question mark hangs over the head of backup goalie Chris Mason.
“The only thing I can say that I really didn’t like about this year is I would have liked to play more,” said Mason, who played just 20 games.
At 35, he’s pondering life as a backup to Ondrej Pavelec, although, like the other Jets, he says playing in a hot hockey market like Winnipeg has been a fantastic experience.
“That’s a decision I will have to make in this off-season,” Mason said. “Now is the time when you kind of sit back and think about all those things.”
Noel, meanwhile, has his trout to think about.
“I see trout, they’re calling my name,” he said. “I see rivers, I pull over.”