When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and were re-named the Winnipeg Jets, they fired their head coach Craig Ramsay, they were met with criticism because he is respected in the hockey community. This was the same criticism that was met when general manager Rick Dudley was fired. This criticism about Dudley might have been fair, but did the Winnipeg Jets really do themselves a disservice firing Ramsay?
Graph curtesy of Mike Darnay of PensBurghCXWZaI4UAAA7j1f.0.png-large
First of all the graph is the three most recent coaches of the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets franchise, including current head coach Paul Maurice. There is a lot to digest in a simple chart, so it is time to start making some educated assumptions about what some significant marks on the chart are.
First of all, I think it would be safe to assume that the major drop-off in play under Ramsay is tied to the fact that the Thrashers had a spat of injuries at the time. Based on some sleuthing with HildyMac from GameTime St. Louis (and former managing editor of the Thrashers SBNation blog) and some educated guesses, we assume that the Thrashers had a spat of injuries including Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Jim Slater, back when Slater was a decent NHLer. This would have put a major dent in the Thrashers thin line-up that was depleted by trading Ilya Kovalchuk the previous year and was compounded by the loss of Slava Kozlov and Maxim Afinogenov to the KHL in the off-season. These losses, coupled with the injuries would have crippled the Thrashers depth and probably led to the extreme fall of their shot differential. It can probably be safely assumed that the rebound in the Thrashers shot differential is based on those players returning from injury. I think it is fair to say that Ramsay was not a special coach for the Thrashers, but he seemed to be a decent coach who had the team on the right track until injuries hit.
Next is the Claude Noel era. Noel was notorious in certain circles of Jets fans for his illogical roster decisions, but Noel seemed to be a fairly average NHL coach. His major failings seemed to be player selection, especially goaltenders, and his relationships with some of the younger skilled players on the team. It is known that Alexander Burmistrov did not like playing for Noel and would not return to the Jets until he was gone. What we can say about Noel is that he achieved the same results as Ramsay and that probably means that firing Ramsay was not necessary. It would have saved TNSE some money because they would have not had to pay Ramsay his contract to not be coaching. There is not a lot to say about Noel that has not been said already.
Paul Maurice is where the Jets really start to take-off. He took the same roster Noel had and turned it into a very good team. He did this by making better tactical decisions than Noel. Maurice is known for wanting his team to use both controlled zone exits and entries as much as possible. He stated this in his year-opening press conference before the start of the 2014-2015 season and the results were obvious that year. It seems as though the major uptick in performance for the Jets came after Maurice was able to fully implement his system and get the team to play the style that he envisioned for them.
A further inspection of the Thrashers and Jets season to season shot differential for and against shows that these observations mostly line-up with the results, minus the whole winning thing.
This is the franchise's season to season on-ice shot differentials and PDO (colour). As you can see, the team was mediocre at best most of the time. The worst coach for them was Don Waddell, who is known for being terrible at coaching and being a general manager by many who were fans of the Thrashers. John Anderson also struggled as the head coach of the team, but seemed to lead them to a rebound from under Waddell. Oddly enough, Bob Hartley was the best coach for the team, but seemed to be done-in by bad luck as shown by the dark PDO colouring in the 2007-2008 season. Waddell took over the rest of that season and the Thrashers never recovered under him.
The Thrashers/Jets have been a struggling expansion team for a while. They started to stabilize under Craig Ramsay and took a step forward under Paul Maurice. Maurice has done a lot for them as a group that should lead to them winning more games than they lose. The issues surrounding Maurice are based on player selection and player roles, but some of that may be his assistant coaches who want to play certain players in certain roles that they are not suited for. If this can be fixed there is no reason why Paul Maurice should not remain the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. He is the coach who has done he most with the team when it comes to possession, which is key to actually winning games. He also has a system in place that leads the team to carry the puck out of the zone and into the zone more often than they did with Claude Noel and that system compliments players like the aforementioned Burmistrov and the Nikolaj Ehlers amongst others.
The Winnipeg Jets could be facing a similar issue as the Atlanta Thrashers did before their last season in Atlanta. They could be losing key players to free agency. That also happened this past off-season when versatile forward Michael Frolik signed with the Calgary Flames, leaving the Jets with a hole up front. The team is not perfect, but they are in good shape and a lot of that can be tied to coaching and Paul Maurice's work to turn the team around. He should be questioned on the player selection and deployment, but he is a net positive coach and probably the best coach the Jets and Thrashers have had in recent history.
Graphs from Mike Darnay and War-on-Ice.