Since the Winnipeg Jets have returned to The Gateway to the West, I have been a man divided. Constantly at odds with myself, I spent the majority of the 2011-12 season mulling over different scenarios through internalization. Burning questions etched themselves in my mind as I struggled to understand whether certain on-ice trends were aberrations or whether they spoke to the overall theme that the year would entail. This offseason, things have not improved. More and more these questions linger as I struggle to answer them the best I can.
This week, we will be highlighting the five most important questions surrounding the Winnipeg Jets as the 2012-13 regular season approaches.
Today, I ponder the coaching strategies employed by Claude Noel.
Say dingus, is Claude Noel really an NHL caliber coach?
Well, Gary Lawless did give him an A-grade in his mid-season rankings, so that must be worth something.
If we look at his career numbers at the NHL level, he's posted a 47-43-16 record in the 106 NHL games he has coached between the Jets and Columbus Blue Jackets. That's an ordinary record, but he was able to squeeze the most out of two rosters that didn't possess a +70-point scorer. So yeah, if the bar for an average NHL caliber coach is a .500 win percentage, then Noel fits that bill.
And to be frank, it's not like there is a laundry list of unemployed NHL coaches who can put up equal or greater win totals to Noel at this point in time. I've told you before and I'll tell you again; Mark Chipman is as loyal as they come. Craig Heizinger is his guy and Noel is Heisinger's guy.
He's not going anywhere.
So for all intents and purposes, Claude Noel did a good job in his first year as Winnipeg's bench boss?
I would say so. I mean, given the roster he was given, he had to make the most of a tough situation. He didn't have the elite talent necessary to formulate a true first line, instead opting to platoon two second lines, which turned out in Winnipeg's favour.
Much of the Jets' demise can be attributed to the fact that they didn't have the depth to check other teams' best players effectively. While the GST trio had the capability of playing solid fourth line minutes, they were instead thrust into a role they didn't fit. What culminated was one of the worst line combos in the NHL. But for that, no one can fault Noel. He played with the hand that he was dealt and it almost led to a playoff appearance.
Now that Kevin Cheveldayoff has brought in Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky and re-signed Kyle Wellwood, it's assumed that Noel will have a better deck to shuffle from?
Again, I would agree. This is weird, since we're supposed to be polar opposites.
Shut up..... I'm scared too....
Back to the question: Bringing in Jokinen gives Noel an infusion of talent to his top six forwards, an importance which cannot be stated enough. Ponikarovsky is a fantastic value player whose presence immediately improves the team's shutdown line. While it's foolhardy to believe that Wellwood might not suffer a statistical regression, he'll still be a power play contributor and a winger that drives the play forward while posting modest point totals.
TNSE has done Noel a great service by bringing in players that he can shape into a winner. The million dollar question will be how he handles his defensive tandems after the loss of Zach Bogosian for up to six months. Defensive depth could prove to be the Achilles heel of the Jets and Noel can't handle any more injuries to his already weak back-end.
This will really test his strength as a tactician of the game.
Don't rely on any line with a catchy nickname.
In all seriousness, it was unfortunate the lengths the coaching staff had to lean upon Ondrej Pavelec down the season's final stretch. It was evident by the middle of March how burnt out the Czech netminder was and I'm sure a fair amount of his fatigue factored into his less than rosy stat line. With the addition of Al Montoya to the fold -- whom I consider to be another gem of a signing by Chevy -- Noel should be able to wrestle an additional 5-8 starts away from Pavelec, keeping him fresh for any potential playoff run the Jets may find themselves in.
Ok last one, will the Jets qualify for the playoffs under Noel's guidance?
Ask again later.
I want to say yes, I truly do. But right now, the status of Evander Kane is what's keeping me from an unequivocal yes. If all the rumours surrounding Kane prove to be false and he does re-sign a multi-year deal to stay in Winnipeg, I think that 2013-14 will be a huge year for this franchise.
Wait, you mean you don't think they'll qualify for the playoffs this year!?
We'll save that for a later installment, my friend.