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Good Coach, Bad Fit

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Paul Maurice was once a replacement; is it now time for him to be replaced?

NHL: Preseason-Edmonton Oilers at Winnipeg Jets Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Maurice is a good NHL coach. He is an average NHL coach by most measurements. He is also probably the wrong coach for the Winnipeg Jets. When Maurice took over the Jets in January 2014 he was the coach they needed. A veteran coach for an underperforming veteran team. That team has evolved now and is formed more of skilled youth than veterans. It is not that Maurice is a bad coach. It is that he is the wrong coach for this team.

At one points the Jets looked like a decent team. They made the playoffs once. And then it all started to fall apart. There was the bad goaltending and some players underperforming. Overall, the team started looking a lot different from the team that made the playoffs the year before. Sure, there were bright spots: Nikolaj Ehlers showed himself to be a top young player in the league and the few games Connor Hellebuyck played in he was superior to the other Jets goalies. The problem is it was obvious that the veterans were dragging the team down. Thankfully, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff realized this and decided to trade Andrew Ladd for a strong return which included Marko Dano, who has been a solid player for the Jets from the beginning.

The Jets have made smart choices this year. They waived Ondrej Pavelec and assigned him to the AHL where he backs up Eric Comrie for the Manitoba Moose. Mark Stuart has been a healthy scratch most of the season. Josh Morrissey has been fine on the top pairing and with Jacob Trouba, the Jets now have two good pairings of defencemen. The problems with the Jets do not stem from a lack of good high-end players. This is where Paul Maurice comes into play.

There are times where Maurice’s decision making is questionable at best. His constant line juggling when injuries are not a factor have led to some lower-skill players to playing on higher lines while skilled players are playing on lower lines with players who do not benefit their skill-set. While Chris Thorburn has been a loyal player to the Winnipeg Jets and Atlanta Thrashers, he is not the type of player who should be on the ice in the last ten minutes of a one goal game. He never was that type of player. The fact he is on the ice says more about Maurice as a coach than anything. Maurice either does not trust his skilled players or he feels that because they are young they should not be playing late in games.

This is a problem with most coaches of course: young players constantly have to earn their way. The problem comes down to once they have done that and they still are not trusted or even played fairly. This is where things are at with Maurice it seems. Or even worse he does not understand that there are certain players who should never move off the fourth line. This applies to a player like Brandon Tanev as well. Tanev is a fast skater with no other discernible skill-set. Yet he plays over superior bottom-six forward Marko Dano for reasons that are hard to comprehend. Dano is a positive shot differential player; a player who helps move the puck in the right direction and helps his team win more games.

Then there is the issue of the second period. Second periods can be tough on teams because of the long change, but the Jets are particularly bad at second periods. According to TSN Jets broadcasts, they have a -24 goal differential in the second period while they have a +3 goal differential in the first period and a +7 goal differential in the third. It’s stats like this that make it easy to question the tactics that the coach is using instead of thinking it is on the players alone. There are obvious issues with the second period that need to be addressed, but that might not happen for a while because the Jets have had a very tight schedule to start the season with minimal practice time as a result. Once the schedule slows down, this should change for the better and the Jets should be able to improve.

All that said, the Winnipeg Jets are at a cross-roads with Paul Maurice. While they made the playoffs the first full season Maurice coached, they missed them in the subsequent season and are on track to miss the playoffs again this year. While it is not all Maurice’s fault, there is some blame at his feet. His system might have worked with a veteran crew, but it is no longer working with the team he has today. Add to that he has not been playing his best line-up when everyone is available and tends to rely on the wrong depth players, there is plenty to blame Maurice for when it comes to the Jets struggles.

Should the Winnipeg Jets fire Paul Maurice? Probably. But if they do fire him they should look deeper and tackle the issues with the structure of the team where the fourth line has veterans who do little to impact the game. The defence has regularly had odd pairings that does not maximize results. These types of personnel decisions have to do with management because management are the ones who ultimately decide which players get contracts and which players are sent down.

Paul Maurice has been a mediocre NHL coach for a long time. He has had some good seasons and some bad seasons. From where the Jets are now, it is looking like while he can still coach he is probably not the best fit for the team anymore. If the Jets do decide to fire him, they might have a hard time finding a replacement for him during the season. If the Jets do move on from Maurice at some point during or after this season, they need to understand where the failings came from places that the coaching staff cannot control.

Paul Maurice has been a good coach for the Jets, but he is no longer the right coach for the team.