Around two and a half years ago – pretty much at the start of the 2017-18 season – I asked a question that I legitimately did not know the answer to: “Is Paul Maurice a good head coach or a bad head coach?” and the answer to that question wasn’t exactly clear to me then.
As it’s been suggested by some, he’s probably more of a survivor than he is a good or bad coach. His ability to communicate with management and players alike has always been listed as a strong suit of his and is likely what got him an extension in Winnipeg even without any real success to be seen. In previous seasons, his coaching style would be ideal for a team that maybe had a few good, talented players but needed to rely on the hallmarks of defence and “gritty play” but this season has been different The Jets clearly have some dynamic, talented players on the roster and yet Maurice continues to verbally state that players like Adam Lowry and Matt Hendricks and how they play on the third and fourth lines will be key for a successful Jets season.
Somewhat amusingly, something I wrote nearly 28 months ago still rings as true today as it did then:
Jets fans will have to get used to the Paul Maurice debate and conversations for the near future. A multi-year contract extension suggests that True North Sports Entertainment sees no reason to let him go even if things do go sideways.
And that’s pretty much where we are right now with the @Winnipeg Jets and Paul Maurice isn’t it? Two and a half years later the Jets and Maurice come to an agreement on another multi-year (three according to Elliotte Friedman) and the same questions and debate caries on.
Are the Jets where they are right now on the standings because of Paul Maurice? The issues this team has had to deal with this season are somewhat astonishing. An AHL-level defense that was gutted by free-agency, trades and retirement talk, and has had to be filled out with not one, but two waiver wire pickups that barely played in the NHL a season ago. Going through an entire training camp with out two of his six best forwards as they had contracts hammered out. Multiple injuries – a higher than league average amount – to players up and down the roster.
That the Jets are even within a breath of a playoff spot in spite of all that needs to be attributed at least in some way to how Paul Maurice has guided his team and kept them together. For all the talk that the Jets were a house divided at the end of last season, that they seem to all remain unified and mostly upbeat about their current season is a credit to Maurice.
Of course, one can’t talk about how the Jets have been able to remain relevant in a playoff race without also factoring in how the Jets have also been bailed out by the goaltending of Connor Hellebuyck. There is a reason he’s been talked about as a leading Vezina Trophy winner and an outside contender for league MVP. Without Helle’s heroics most nights, the Jets would be a lot worse off. He’s doing it behind a defense and a team overall that bleeds scoring chances profusely and the playing style and system that allows for that to happen is under Paul Maurice’s direction.
Maurice has stated multiple times over the last couple of seasons that his team looks to adapt to the “feel” of the game on any given night and play off that which suggests more of a reactionary club, than one that should really be able to dictate what type of game they want to play. Is that the right way to go about things for this club? Would another coach have this team play any different and would it bring any better results? No one honestly knows, or can say for sure, lest of all Mark Chipman and the rest of True North Sports and Entertainment who are sticking with the known rather than the unknown of a different man behind the bench.
To that extent, how much of this extension is Mark Chipman’s call and how much of it was Kevin Cheveldayoff’s call? Noticeably absent from any of the Jets press and media releases on Wednesday were any statements from the Jets General Manager which at least is cause for an eyebrow or two to be raised. TNSE has made their statement that they stand behind Maurice, but what of the GM who was more responsible for the aforementioned issues with the defense and delayed contract signings? Does focus now shift on him and he performs at his job over the next two weeks going into the trade deadline?
Maybe this season will be dismissed as a series of unfortunate events beyond the control of both Maurice or Cheveldayoff and we’ll just suffer through this season and hope for a better outcome next season with all the same people in place.
As always with the Jets, the rest of us outside of TNSE’s bubble are left to sit here, speculate and debate amongst ourselves if this was all a good idea or a poor one with nobody truly knowing either way and the answer – just like it was over two years ago – being somewhere in the middle.