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.
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.
@arcticicehockey paul maurice has to take some of the blame for player usage and line combinations
— Paul Poirier (@PaulPoirier3) November 24, 2016
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.
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.
Paul Maurice should be on notice here. This team has way too much talent to keep getting lit up like this.
— James Gordon (@James_J_Gordon) December 2, 2016
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.