Is Paul Maurice’s Job In Jeopardy?

Rumours. They are a part of life in the NHL. Whether it be potential trade talks or coaches on the hot seat, media, fans and people who have jobs in the league all are guilty of getting caught up in the ongoing gossip and innuendo. 

The latest talk surrounds Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice. In his Insider Training column on Saturday, Ottawa Sun columnist Bruce Garrioch reported that the Jets should be in a playoff position and that executives he has talked to believe that Maurice’s job is in jeopardy. 

West Isn’t The Best

Now, to be fair, these executives didn’t give out their identities so we’re not 100% certain who is saying it and where the information is coming from. However, where there’s smoke there’s fire and the seat Maurice is sitting on is warmer than it was at this time last year.

The Western Conference isn’t as strong as it normally is. Dallas, Nashville and Los Angeles are all off to slow starts and have showed they are vulnerable. The Jets were expected to be a better team this year as the likes of Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba grow into more leadership roles while youngsters Patrik Laine, Connor Hellebuyck and Kyle Connor were to give the team an energetic boost.

However, a combination of injuries and inconsistent play have slowed the Jets progression. Missing Bryan Little for 23 games didn’t help. Little brings depth up the middle and is one of the most underrated players in the league. His absence forced the likes of Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev to move up the depth chart. 

Lowry is a good player but he doesn’t drive possession like a top-six forward. Lowry’s 49.7% Corsi and 0.41 Coris relative isn’t good enough to play in the top six. Tanev has great speed, but a 45.0% Corsi and a team worst -8.72 Corsi relative is rather frightening.

Maurice can’t control injuries, but usage of healthy players is a top priority in today’s NHL and Maurice has made some questionable decisions in that department.

Player Usage

In case you haven’t noticed, Patrik Laine is pretty good at hockey. His 16 goals leads the team and his shot is world-class. He brings a dynamic this franchise hasn’t had since Ilya Kovalchuk lit up scoreboards during the Atlanta Thrasher days. Yet, Maurice on a number of occasions doesn’t use the spectacular rookie on the first power play unit. 

Laine is similar to Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos in that his favourite spot is the top of the faceoff circle on his off wing where he can one-time his laser-like shot into the top corner. His positoning and skill has led to a team high 6 power play goals. However, more often than not, Maurice will use Lowry on the first unit with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler with Dustin Byfuglien and either Toby Enstrom or Nikolaj Ehlers manning the points. 

The reasoning is Lowry’s size and strength can be used in front of the net to screen the goalie and disrupt the defence. It’s a good philosophy if you’re playing in the 1980s. But power plays have changed. Shot blocking is so prominent now that it’s incredibly difficult to get point shots through. Puck movement is vital for a successful power play which isn’t Lowry’s strength. Only recently has Laine seen time on the number one unit. The Jets are currently 20th with a 15.2% success rate with the man advantage. It has improved but why did Maurice wait so long to make the move?

Laine has also seen time on the third line with Andrew Copp and Tanev has linemates. Yes, Laine’s defensive game needs improvement. Yes, Laine is not a possession driver. (44.3% Corsi) But putting him on the third line hinders his ability to score goals, his greatest attribute. Little’s injury was a factor but Laine needs to be in the top six to be productive.

The usage or lack thereof concerning Kyle Connor is criminal. The 2015 first round draft pick is more familiar with how much ice they use in the soft drinks served in the press box of the MTS Centre than actual ice time. When he does suit up, Connor sees very little ice time, an average of barely 11 minutes per game. Connor would be better off playing for the Manitoba Moose where he can see at least 20 minutes per game in a top six role. But if Maurice wants to keep Connor with the main roster, then play him over the likes of Chris Thorburn. Yes, it would mean some lineup juggling but as we’ve mentioned before Thorburn isn’t very good. 

WWMD?

No this isn’t about weapons of mass destruction. We’re in Canada. Our biggest weapons are Tim Horton’s coffee, Canadian Tire money and strong beer. The question being asked here is what will management do? General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is known for his patience and loyalty so Maurice is most likely safe for the remainder of the season. However, there are warning signs.

Under Maurice’s watch, the Jets are 108-90-28 with only one playoff appearance. Coaches shelf lives aren’t very long for the most part. Maurice wore out his welcome in Carolina (twice) and Toronto. If the team doesn’t make the playoff this year, especially in a down year for the Western Conference, the calls for Maurice’s head will get louder from an antsy fan base who want to experience playoffs again. This is also a fan base that tends to give management the benefit of the doubt so Chevy’s job is safe.

That makes Maurice the scapegoat if the Jets fail to qualify for the postseason. He does have time to pilot the plane to the safe landing but he needs to make better decisions. He has four months to do so. 

  • FishWhiskey

    Prior to addressing Paul Maurice’s job security I think it is necessary to get some clarity on what TNSE’s goal is for the Jets.

    #1. Is the goal to achieve maximum profit with minimum risk and effort by icing a perennial bubble team to play before a captive audience, who pay some of the highest ticket prices in the league, while watching the value of an NHL franchise “asset” appreciate exponentially in value? (paid $170 million in 2011 worth $358 million in 2016)

    #2. Or is TNSE prepared to do the hard, risky and sometimes ruthless work required to build a Stanley Cup Champion and perennial contender.

    The Winnipeg media never seems to want to pressure TNSE on this but actions speak louder than words.

    Paul Maurice has been a head coach in the NHL for 19 years. He has no Stanley cup rings. Has only been to the play offs five times in those 19 years and has a play off win percentage of .439.

    Given that TNSE has kept him on for four years despite not getting the team a single play off win and no credentials to suggest improvement, which of the above two goals do you think TNSE is really pursuing?

    Jets fans won’t get what they hope for unless they demand it. But who knows, maybe they are just content being “cash cows” to a couple of billionaires?

  • Paul from NZ

    Interesting Maurice’s record you post is exactly 0.500! (true 0.500, as in, 0.500 wins per game). I don’t think thats too bad given the team he has had to date…

    I do agree this roster is a playoff roster. However, you can’t ignore that Maurice hasn’t played anything near the full roster since the start of the season.

    It is part of the NHL, but he has also had a relatively tough schedule this year.

    Jets have also once again had some of the worst goal tending in the league (anywhere I can find team average save %? Helle is 29th in league in save %).

    The schedule is unique to this year, but Maurice has only had good goal tending once, and he made play offs, and has supported the team through injury epidemics in the past.

    So…

    I agree Maurice should be in hot seat if we are still to see improvement in lets say 25 more games, or if things take a turn for the worst, but right now I think its an acceptable position, given the circumstances.

    I think Maurice has done well to keep team in mix through the first part of this season and pressure is on now to lift them up into a play off spot, hopefully with a healthier lineup for remainder of season.

    • Eddie O rules!

      Goaltending hasn’t been that bad. In fact it’s been better than every year except one with Pavs. If you go to puckalytics.com you can look at 5v5 sv% and filter for 800 minutes (about 20 games for most). Helle sits 17th out of 21. It’s not great, but before he got lit up by Edmonton he was right in the middle. Hopefully now that the schedule has eased up a bit he can get some more practise time and find a rythm and get up to league average again.

  • Brock Landers

    I think the greater question is why did Maurice (or Chevy?) maintain so many assistant coaches from the Noel era? Wade Flaherty should have been fired years ago along with Pascal Vincent (who inexplicably is coaching the Moose) and probably Charlie Huddy too. This leads me to believe that if Maurice was fired – which I honestly can’t see unless they absolutely collapse this or early next season – we’d likely end up with a god awful coach like Pascal Vincent as head coach of the Jets for 3 more seasons of continued wilderness. I’ll gladly keep Maurice for now relative to the likely options coming to the Jets.

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    I don’t think PoMo really is in the hot seat. The TNSE party line going into this season was that they were expecting this to be another year of growing pains with an even younger roster. This suggests that The Powers That Be won’t be too hard on PoMo this year. That said, the West is a bit of a joke , so they might actually squeeze into a playoff berth in spite of themselves if they can put any kind of a run together.

  • Dr. Rocktopus

    PoMo definitely tinkers too much (IMO) with line ups, and is a better coach than talent scout also imo. I’m way more in the @PaulfromNZ camp for now though. Where I depart is timing it seems to me next season seems like a better time to make those types of decisions. If the Ducks fire their coaches I could possibly be persuaded though.