The Jets want Paul Maurice back, do you?
In the eight seasons Paul Maurice has spent behind the Winnipeg bench, the Jets have made it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs five times, punching a ticket to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons.
Twice they’ve advanced past the first round, once past the second.
During their run of four consecutive playoff appearances, they’ve been a very good regular season team, but one who can’t get over the hump in the postseason.
While the Jets have certainly done good things under Maurice, they simply haven’t done enough. Their four-game sweep by the Montreal Canadiens the latest example of that.
Is it time for a new voice in the Jets’ locker room? Someone who will come in with a different vision and take the Jets in a different direction?
The players don’t seem to think so.
"I've been on teams where the coach has lost the team and the message isn't being received and the guys roll their eyes every time he says something," said captain Blake Wheeler. "I mean, that's just never happened with Paul. I think his message is still received. I think the guys have just a ton of respect for him because he's first of all a good person and a good man and he treats us as people."
There’s no denying Maurice is a good person and a good hockey coach, but the position of an NHL head coach has a shelf life and maybe Maurice’s has expired.
Now on the back nine of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-21 season was a challenging one for everyone involved. From expanded rosters, to navigating through COVID protocol issues, to figuring out how keep taxi squad players fresh, this was an extremely difficult process for any NHL head coach.
“In some respects, the way Paul handled our team this year was almost as good as he’s ever been. I’ve felt a lot of the decisions he made, whether it be line combinations or what have you, were right on,” Wheeler added. “I think his feel for our team was really good this year.”
Nikolaj Ehlers’ has spent all six of his NHL seasons in Winnipeg and with Maurice at the helm. Ehlers hopes that doesn’t change.
"It's very unusual, even in Europe, to have the same coach for that long," said Ehlers. "But it just shows what kind of coach and what kind of guy Paul is. I think everyone on the team is very happy with the way he coaches us."
Even with an ugly defeat in the second-round, the Jets exceeded many of the expectations that were set outside of their dressing room of course. Most pegged the Jets as a bubble playoff team in a very top-heavy all-Canadian division.
For about three quarters of the season, they were right there in the thick of things with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers for the top two spots in the division.
But a late season dive in the standings that included a seven-game losing streak and a 3-9 finish to the season pushed them to the third of four playoff spots.
It was a disappointing ending to the regular season for a team that in most of it, looked to be one of the special stories you see from time-to-time in the NHL.
“You guys wrote us off from the beginning of this season. The media had us not making the playoffs, being a bottom-feeder in the league. And I think we proved you guys wrong all season long. We made the playoffs. We swept the Edmonton Oilers and went to the second round of the playoffs,” said Mark Scheifele.
"I have full support in Paul Maurice. But I know I'm not alone there.”
Maurice drew up an outstanding game plan against the Oilers, doing what many thought was not possible by neutralizing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
But then in their second-round series with Montreal, things went stale for the Jets. They didn’t adjust, they couldn’t muster up any offense and before they knew it, their season was over.
“There’s a lot of coaches that haven’t won playoff rounds. To win a playoff round this year, it’s not our goal, but there is still some kind of accomplishment in that,” said Wheeler.
“He would never acknowledge that because it’s not what we’re in this business for, but big-picture wise, to make the playoffs, win a round, you just have to kind of keep that in perspective and take the positives out of that.”
On the ice, the Jets are going to look different next season. With several pending UFA’s, some young prospects expected to make a roster push and the expansion draft upcoming, the Jets could be in store for an on-ice make over come October.
How different, if at all, will they look behind the bench?