Starting October 6th against Anaheim, a two week stretch of exceptionally poor hockey gave fuel to the on-going debate about whether Head Coach Claude Noel will be fired in-season.
It was hardly the first time Jets’ fans had considered the notion, as his roster management, special teams, and stubbornness have long needled at observers. But this year, the sports book Bodog ranked him 4th to be fired after just three games, and even the Edmonton Journal wrote about it after the first Chicago game.
Are three wins in a row enough to cool Noel’s seat?
One of the ways we saw Noel’s desperation is that his roster management started to make a lot more sense. He was more urgent, matched lines more carefully, and stapled his fourth line to the bench more often.
James Wright is the best case study of that as the only fourth liner to play in all 20 games, and also as a Noel favourite. He typically plays many more minutes than his 4th line partners, including heavy short handed time. Yet, his even strength average ice time is down from 12 minutes in April of last year to just 8:42 so far this season. Perhaps more telling, since the game against Colorado October 27th, Wright has averaged just 7 minutes of even strengh ice time.
Wright might be the canary in this whole situation. We can watch his minutes as a proxy for Noel’s comfort to some degree. So far, he remains alive but sickly.
His Own Comments
One sign of improving security is that his pre- and post- game press conferences no longer include him asking the media if they know a guy who could play right wing. Gone are the futile questions about what can really be expected with this group of 12 forwards.
On November 11th, he even seemed a bit happy in his presser, and he talked about the next stage while reflecting on how far they’ve been from even considering the next stage.
"The biggest thing for us is to… take the step and try to build on some of this stuff. We talk about that all the time – or, trying to get to that stage… and so now we’re in this thing. So, how can we use this in a positive light?"
It’s not his most eloquent moment, but he clearly means that they want to build on their successes, but haven’t even had the limited success required to start that process.
The game against Detroit was not the Jets’ finest. They returned to a sub-40% corsi rate, did nothing or worse on special teams, and Noel was out of options past the first line very fast. A goalie stealing a win is rare in Winnipeg, but at this point, management has to be focused on the bottom line of wins. The team is 9-9-2 and not in last in the Central for once.
Games against Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Calgary are expected to deliver two wins, at which point the team would be above .500 for the first time since before game 4. That is an attainable but necessary goal in the narrative of the team – and Claude himself – climbing out of the October wreckage.
There are a number of players who are still not performing as expected, from Olli Jokinen’s two year hiatus from hockey and Scheifele’s almost polarized performances, to Zach Bogosian and Grant Clitsome both having dramatic turnover problems. Even as this team comes together, it remains disappointing in many respects.
As well, the special teams are atrocious, and at some point something will have to change. We saw some new dynamics on the powerplay against Detroit, but no goals just yet.
If the wins dry up for another two week period this season, and there are still a handful of players struggling below expectations and easily identified weaknesses to the Jets’ game, Claude Noel will have very little in his tenure that indicates his personal coaching ability or suggests a reason he should stay.
There but for the grace of Ondrej Pavelec… Claude Noel remains in an awkward position.