I admire Claude Noel for his frankness. His honesty. The guy is tight-lipped like Tiger Woods is a virgin.
If a player sucks, he says that player sucks. If the powerplay or penalty killing suck, he says they suck. If Ondrej Pavelec is a sieve, he says he's a sieve. We always know where the Winnipeg Jets head coach stands on his players and his team. Hell, we even know where he stands on the media. The whole hockey world knows. He's the best sound byte in the National Hockey League.
That's why news scavengers like him. It's why shinny scribes in River City didn't give him the finger earlier this week when he gave them the finger about dumb questions. You don't zip the lips that fill your notebook.
Yet, in the wake of another season that will not include Stanley Cup tournament games being played in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, I find myself in ponder: Where do the Winnipeg players stand on Coach Claude?
Do they think he's a hoot, like the boys and girls on TSN do?
Do they show up at the rink the morning after yet another public flogging on Sports Centre and say, "Whoooo, boy! Wasn't that great the way Coach Claude chewed out our asses last night on TV?"
Of course not.
So, do I want to play for a man who hangs me out to dry scant seconds after I've received a fatal playoff blow in a loss to the Washington Capitals? Do I really need to hear that I'm not as good a player as Alex Ovechkin? Well, duh. What was your first clue, coach? His 30 goals or my three goals?
Now, I realize there's little likelihood of a player stepping forward to trash mouth Coach Claude. As sure as there'll be sand bagging on the banks of the Red River this spring, that would earn you a one-way ticket out of town and a bad rep. So, assuming neither of those things are on your wish list, you scratch 'crapping on the coach' off your things-to-do list and button your lip.
But, oh my, would I like to get inside the players' heads. You know, get them on truth syrum (or beer; whichever of the two is handy) and feret out the real dope.
I realize that players don't need to be on buddy terms with their head coach. The powerful Montreal Canadiens outfits of the mid-to-late 1970s were evidence of that. They surely did not have the warm-and-fuzzies for Scotty Bowman, but they put up with his brusk ways because he was a coaching genius who knew how to win which, in turn, put more playoff bonus money into their pockets at a time when players weren't paid a gazzilion dollars to sit on the bench and twindle their thumbs.
Coach Claude, on the other hand, is not a coaching genius, even though I sometimes get the vibe that he believes he invented the puck, the bluelines and the pre-game meal. Like he's the only person who's figured out this thing we call hockey. Well, he isn't. And his methods have not translated into playoff bonus money for the Winnipeg players in the two seasons he has pushed their buttons.
And I'm left to wonder if, or when, his act will have worn thin with the workers. It can't be tough love all the time, but that's what it's been with this man from the get-go.
I still recall this memorable quote from early last season: "Why are you, an NHL player, playing like an American league player? And it’s not one or two, it’s more than that."
That's not motivation. It's insulting. And that's how he began his tenure.
Earlier this season, it was: "Where do we stand at the quarter pole? I don’t like the way we play. So does that answer your question? I don’t like the way we play. I just don’t think we play hard enough."
And, of course, this week he had to provide his players with a public reminder that they aren't as skilled as the Capitals.
If the Jets move forward with Coach Claude behind the bench—and there's nothing to suggest his ouster is imminent—let's hope he remains glib, witty and colorful with the media. No one wants to stifle that. But, at the same time, let there be the proviso that there are to be no more public hangings of his players. I think that act has worn thin...I can only wonder if his players do, too.