The Winnipeg Jets have had a highly successful season this year and head coach Paul Maurice has been reaping some praise for his work. How much of the Jets improvement is thanks to his coaching and how much of it is the Jets simply having too many good pieces to fail?
It is hard to quantify how much better a coach can make a team while it is easy to see how much worse a bad coach can make a team (please see Michel Therrien in Montreal before Marc Bergevin started making bad trades for worse players). So how much of an impact has Maurice had on the Jets rise?
This season the Jets struggled to drive possession until Fourth Line Jesus Mathieu Perreault was put onto the fourth line and the possession void that was once that group started to improve. Somehow, these moves paid off in the long run even though Matt Hendricks very rarely did anything more than hit players early on.
The biggest change for the Jets this year has been goaltending and that is Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck worked with a new goalie coach this summer and the results paid off immediately. He came back looking like a cool, composed goalie who was always in position to make a save. But that was Hellebuyck changing coaches to benefit him (and the team) long-term.
So how much credit should Paul Maurice receive for the Winnipeg Jets massive improvement this year? A good amount. He has not been completely blind to grit and has allowed for skilled players to play on the fourth line for example. However, he is not suddenly a great coach after years of being a .500 coach at best. That said, Mike Babcock has been making strange and borderline absurd lineup decisions according to Toronto Maple Leafs fans. No coach is perfect and Maurice has had a very good year in regards to making smart calls on certain players.
Paul Maurice has been an average NHL coach for years and this season does not change that. It does show all teams that with the right players an average coach can do the right thing and turn a team into a contender. Would the Jets be better off with a coach who is more acclaimed? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of big name coaches are coaching struggling teams this year. Roster make-up, injuries, and sheer dumb luck all play a role in a team finding success and until recently the Jets have had all three on their side. Maurice has done a fine job with the roster he has been given and the circumstances he has had to coach under. He is still barely over .500 career wise, but he is not a bad coach in any sense of the word.