WINNIPEG – With the NHL season buried and player interviews done, Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice says his own future will be on the table this week when he sits down with team management.
“I want to be coaching the Winnipeg Jets next year,” he said Sunday, as players prepared to leave after missing the playoffs for the third season in their new home.
It’s the seventh straight season the Jets have failed to make the post-season in the former Atlanta-based franchise’s history.
So what’s stopping Maurice? There seems little doubt the Jets would like that as well but he suggests the final vote on whether he makes his temporary job a permanent one lies with his wife and family.
“She’s a woman of few words but she still scares me so I’ve got to go home and ask,” he said, as the Jets hosted their final end of-season availability with players.
He said the process should get started mid-week, presuming it starts as he would like.
“First we have to agree that the work was appreciated on both sides. From my point it’s done. Then we have to figure out what that work is worth and then we have to make sure that it’s good for both families,” Maurice said. “At the end of the day, family first doesn’t just apply to the players so I’ve got to deal with that as well.”
The veteran coach was brought in as a temp mid-season, when Claude Noel was sacked by the slumping Jets at the end of a five-game skid. They played better after the change—winning seven of their nine remaining games in January—but still finished the season exactly where they did their first under Noel, with 84 points.
Maurice, 47, had significantly more NHL experience after coaching more than 1,000 games with Hartford/Carolina and the Toronto Maple Leafs when he walked into the Winnipeg dressing room.
Noel only had 24 NHL games as a head coach under his belt, after taking over briefly when Ken Hitchcock was sacked in Columbus, when he was put in charge of the Jets in 2011-12.
Winnipeg scoring leader Blake Wheeler, who set new NHL career high marks this season with 28 goals and 69 points, says the two had different styles.
“For our group . . . there’s definitely times we need to get kicked in the behind a little bit,” said the right-winger. “That’s a card that needs to be played and I think Paul got a feel for that.”
Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who finished with 23 goals and 54 points, wants to see Maurice return.
“I want him back,” he said. “I think he’s a great coach and a great mind and is really good for this group and I think everyone in that room loves to play for him so when you have something like that and you have group that’s willing to work . . . then you want a guy like that back.”
The Jets finished 18-12-5 under Maurice after winning four of their last six in April. They ended the season at 37-35-10, the same way they finished 2011-12, despite moving to the Central Division in the Western Conference.
There is no shortage of arm-chair advice out there on what the Jets need to reach the post-season—from better goaltending to more high-priced snipers and bigger and better blue-liners.
But Maurice has been slow to point any fingers. He has worked on a more responsible defensive game and says real progress takes time.
“I think we made some decent strides in our defensive zone (but) we’ve got a long way to go there,” he said.
He says they only started to make strides in their offensive play as the season wound down and more work needs to be done with basics like the conditioning of players and developing draft picks.
His message is basically: be prepared to wait at least a couple of years. It’s something playoff-starved fans may find hard to take.
“The style of play, the understanding of what we want to do, the foundation of it shouldn’t take too long but that doesn’t mean you’re good at it yet,” he said.
As for all the critics of Ondrej Pavelec’s goaltending, Maurice says he has to see better play in front of the net before he can judge how well any of the team’s netminders are performing.
Injury-wise it was also a tough season for the Jets with some key players going down. Only Wheeler, centres Bryan Little, Olli Jokinen and defenceman Tobias Enstrom managed to play all 82 games.
“It’s challenging,” said forward Evander Kane, who missed 19 games due to injuries.
“Other guys have to step up and try to fill those roles. Especially coming in and out of the lineup or playing with different guys it can be tough. But you’ve got to try to make the best of it and it’s a good challenge for you. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it.”