- Craig Custance
On the day Claude Noel was fired, Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stood before the Winnipeg media and answered nearly every question the group could possibly have on the state of the team. How much of it was his fault? When did it all go wrong for Noel? How much of the blame falls on the players? How much is the failure to win the result of a lingering culture from Atlanta?
All valid questions. All questions that don't change the reality of the situation in Winnipeg right now. The best young players, such as Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele, aren’t quite ready to be the difference-makers this franchise needs. The best veteran players on the Jets roster aren’t at the same level as veterans playing for legitimate Western Conference contenders. An elite goaltender would bridge that gap until Winnipeg's talented prospects are ready.
Unfortunately for Noel, the Jets didn’t have one in his now-ended tenure behind the bench.
Last week, after the Jets lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2, a loss that was their fourth straight, Cheveldayoff reached out to Paul Maurice to gauge his interest in the job. There’s no obvious historical connection between Cheveldayoff and Maurice other than the hockey world is small and has a long memory. Cheveldayoff remembered Maurice’s success with Carolina when Jim Rutherford rehired him in December 2008 with Rutherford's Hurricanes stuck in mediocrity. Maurice went 33-19-5 the rest of that season to get Carolina into the playoffs, where it beat the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins in Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. It was an impressive run for Maurice and the Hurricanes.
Naturally, Maurice was interested in trying again.
The Jets lost again Saturday, 6-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and that was that. Cheveldayoff had a conversation with ownership, then a longer one on the phone with Maurice. A gentleman's deal was reached -- Maurice would coach the rest of this season and the two would discuss anything beyond that when both sides were ready.
“It speaks a lot to his confidence level,” said Cheveldayoff in Maurice agreeing to work under those terms. “He’s battle-hardened, energetic and champing at the bit.”
This takes us to our Next Question of the week:
What does Maurice bring to the table as the second head coach under the Cheveldayoff regime?
There might not be a general manager who knows Maurice better than Rutherford, who hired him twice to lead the Hurricanes. In chatting with Rutherford on Sunday, he immediately highlighted a skill that will serve Maurice well in Winnipeg.