Earlier in the summer, I took a look at ways that the Winnipeg Jets could improve their win-loss record with changes in systems from the front-office to the coaching staff and not necessarily on-ice personnel, in the model of the 2011 Tampa Bay Lightning.
As the summer drags on, with the Jets instead choosing to sign Jason King instead of Nikolay Zherdev, it’s clear that the Jets are not trying to make the playoffs this year by signing high quality free agents or making big trades, and I don’t really have an issue with this. I’d rather the new organization (since there’s so much front-office turnaround, it’s pretty well new) get a feel for these hockey players and craft a system around their talents, rather than signing puzzle pieces to create a rag-tag team that will make the playoffs and get wallopped in four or five games. That strategy appeals more to Dale Tallon and his Florida Panthers.
The Jets, however, have the luxury of doing a complete rebuild, and locking down important pieces of the core group for years to come. After a good look this season, Kevin Cheveldayoff and his team can add or subtract pieces with better information in mind. This isn’t a team in the midst of a championship window, but one that has, for ten years, been struggling to find a groove.
There was an excellent post that popped up Wednesday from our friends at Illegal Curve on shot reduction being key to the Jets fortunes. In theory, cutting the number of shots against by a mere 6% for a team that has been horrible at preventing shots in the past could be the key to 14 goals over the course of the season.
“Claude Noel will have his hands full in his first season as an NHL head boss as he will be tasked with figuring out what system best suits this extremely young squad. As we mentioned last week, many of these players will be playing for their third coach in three seasons–so patience is very important for the Winnipeg brass and more importantly the team’s fanbase.”
One issue could be whether Noel is the best man suited for a defensive job. In 24 games coaching in the NHL, he went 10-8-6 (which is really 10-14) with the Columbus Blue Jackets as interim in the spring of 2010. What shocks me, however, is the differences in shot differential when the team played under Ken Hitchcock as opposed to Noel:
|Shots For||Shots Against||Differential|
[These figures are per game approximates via NHL.com]
This probably isn’t the best measure of a coach, particularly since in the second half, the Jackets traded away Freddy Modin and Milan Jurcina, but I bring it up to show the difficulty of playing under a new system. The Jackets actually trended downward as far as allowing shots per game goes (a full three shots was knocked off the average of the last 8-games compared to the first 8-game stretch).
Part of the problem was that the team started taking more penalties and conceded 6.6 shots on the powerplay under Claude Noel, compared to 5.3 (as best we can tell) under Ken Hitchcock. If a team playing undisciplined and taking penalties is a product of the coach, well, that certainly isn’t the best way to lop quality shots off of your total and give your goaltender any help. Noel’s Manitoba Moose were shorthanded 333 times last season, good for 7th in the AHL and was similar to the prior season’s count of 329.
So, what can we determine from this? It’s wise for a team to stay patient, it’s good to reduce the number of shots and powerplays against, and Claude Noel seems to be a man who can fit both bills.
But patience is key. You can’t just hand a new jockey the reigns and expect him to win the Preakness when your horse came last in the Kentucky Derby, but it might be a decision that pays dividends when by the time you run the Belmont.