So close, yet so so far away. Finishing with a record of 24-21-3, the 2013 Winnipeg Jets ended the season with 51 points – a mere four short of the New York Islanders and that highly coveted playoff spot. Unfortunately those four points have changed the tone of Jets fans everywhere from glee and hope to reflection and questioning, and thus here I am writing a review on the season rather than a preview of the newly-branded Winnipeg Jets first playoff matchup.
So buckle up folks. Throughout this week I’m going to work my way through the forwards, defensemen, goalies, and finish with a summary and my opinions on this season. Today, I go over the Winnipeg Jets Coach Claude Noel.
(Big thanks to behindthenet, nhl.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, capgeek, and leftwinglock.com for all the upcoming numbers)
Coach Claude Noel
Paired with every team that doesn’t make the playoffs comes a question. Does the Head Coach deserve to retain his position for the next year? Missing the playoffs is generally perceived as a failed season, and much needs to be taken into consideration. Here I will break down a couple reasons to condemn and a couple reasons to forgive Claude Noel for the past season,. I’ll wrap up by voicing my opinion as to whether or not he should keep his job.
Ship Him Out?
The Horrible Special Teams
First let me say yes, I understand that Coach Noel leaves plenty of the special team duties to his assistant coaches. He does, though, ultimately have the final say on who those coaches are and what goes onto the ice. Sadly for Jets fans, what has gone out has been a pretty pitiful product.
The Jets finished 24th this season on the penalty kill (for the second season in a row), working at a 79.7% success rate. The Jets were able to move from 24th to 2nd overall in times shorthanded, but all of that is a waste if they cannot kill anything off. Yes, things did improve as the season progressed, but it was much too little, much too late as the Jets averaged 0.58 power play goals against per game. They need to play all year as they did near the end of the season if they want to avoid playing ‘catch-up’ and make the playoffs. Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs for example. With a change of coach last year, the penalty kill moved from a constant streak of 28th-30th place finishes to second overall, and they made the playoffs for the first time in 9 years. Admittedly it is hard to have a successful penalty kill without consistent goaltending, so a lot of the blame does fall of Ondrej Pavelec’s shoulders. If the penalty kill is ever going to get better he (or whoever is in net) needs to improve.
The Jets power play was a complete and total embarrassment this year. Clicking at a pitiful 13.8%, it was dead last in the league, and was more of a detriment to the team than a benefit. I can’t recall the number of times I found myself disappointed that the Jets were going to the power play, as it often slowed the pace and killed the momentum, creating a turning point in the wrong direction. Teams such as the Boston Bruins, who are big, physical, and constantly one of the best teams in goals against totals can afford to have lack luster power plays. Teams like the Jets (who finished 25th in goals against) need to take advantage of every opportunity they get to score if they want to be successful.
Line Up Decisions
There were plenty of lineup decisions this year that left me scratching my head. As was mentioned many times throughout the year and in my review of the forwards earlier this week, Alex Burmistrov and Kyle Wellwood (shout out to Arctic Ice Hockey) were two of the Jets’ better forwards on the ice. Especially when compared to the horrible year Olli Jokinen was having, and the trickle down effect of him onto Evander Kane, the lack of minutes given to Burmi and Wellwood are confusing at best. Yet, they found themselves in the press box while Olli happily played on. It also worries me that Noel’s feud with Alex Burmistrov seemed to take on a personal context, and there was a clear communication breakdown between the two of them.
Defensively, the Dustin Byfuglien ‘experiment’ of moving him to forward for a game and a half really had me shaking my head (remember when he was a grinding forward to start his career?). In fact, Byfuglien not sitting at all this year had me wondering as well. There were many occasions in which Dustin just did not seem interested at all. He missed assignments, would pinch at poor times or seemed to just not care, yet was always in the lineup. It would have been nice to see Arthurs Kulda plugged into a game after he was brought back, or even just a move to show Buff that he cannot get by with a sub par effort.
Keep Him Around?
The Jets right now have zero organizational depth. Claude Noel has been put in a position to create a winning team built of a strong top line, a young, skilled scorer, a lot of waiver wire pick ups, fourth line over-achievers, and question marks in Alex Burmistrov, Kyle Wellwood and Olli Jokinen. It is very difficult for a coach to push players beyond their capabilities and after a season that saw many players (including Kyle Wellwood) have career years, a fall back had to be expected.
Compounding this problem has been the injuries over the last two years to the defensive core, the underperforming of key players, and the goaltending he has received.
Injuries to Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom, Mark Stuart and Dustin Byfuglien have left Noel scrambling to decide how to put together a proper, productive blue line on a regular basis. It was a rare occasion this year that the Jets top 4 defensemen were all in the lineup, and that lack of consistency makes it difficult to have top notch production.
No need to look further than Olli Jokinen for a lack of production.The former 90-point player produced a mere 14 this year, with only 1 coming on the power play. To only have one constantly producing center and only one true, offensive line to roll out makes things difficult. With improvement from Jokinen next year should come more success, and more options for Noel.
Lack of constant, talented goaltending will kill any coaching plan. There is only so much he can do as a head coach to influence goaltending and he clearly wasn’t confident enough in Montoya’s abilities to play him more. I’ve made my feelings clear this week about the Jets’ goaltending. Let’s hope it will be vastly improved.
As his options expand and he has the ability to move and create line combinations that are properly balanced, we will truly be able to evaluate and question Claude Noel. Until then, it’s only fair to wait and let him do his work.
It’s Still Early
Coach Noel has been with this core for a mere a season and half. He has only had one real training camp and preseason, and only one year of constant practices. Aside from a small change here or there, he has been working with the same group and hasn’t been able to input many of the recent Jets draft picks. Claude has AHL experience and knows how to work with younger developing players, and I for one am comfortable with him helping the young guys when they are ready. This offseason has an opportunity for improvement with such a high number of free agents. It may be best to wait and see what comes out of the summer, and how Claude Noel works with it before deciding to let him go.
In my opinion, you simply cannot and should not fire Coach Noel at this point in time. He has been a good coach in my opinion, and let’s face it, the guy is a hoot to have around. By the end of the season he had appeared to have mended fences with Burmi, and he did bring a team that was projected to finish 14th in the East to a mere 4 points away from a playoff spot. Ask me again in a year or two, but for now I am all aboard with keeping Noel around.
Coach Claude Noel
Overall Rating: B