By Allan Madriaga
When I talk to fans about the Winnipeg Jets’ season most of the time the conversation leads to the Jets needing to fire coach Paul Maurice.
Despite the recent string of wins, many have already called it quits with the head coach. He’s failed this team for a second year in a row.
Or has he?
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is likely to extend Maurice’s contract at the end of the season. And rightfully so; Maurice’s work is not finished. The club took a chance to go with an even younger squad this year and part of Maurice’s job was to continue to develop the young players. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries and terrible netminding ruined the Jets’ season. It made it even worse for Maurice’s case for an extension.
Take a look at the Jets’ goaltending for instance. Sportingcharts.com shows the Jets are third worst in the league for team save percentage at an embarrassing .899. The league average save percentage is .914. If Maurice had this average save percentage it would have equated to an extra 26 goals saved. The Jets lost 11 games in regulation time by one goal this season. Another six games were lost in overtime. Sprinkle all 26 goals saved onto all the Jets games this season and you can bet on a few landing on some of the losses mentioned.
Imagine if we could have had just another five wins from better goaltending. Maurice would probably be preparing his team for round one of the playoffs right now. We are not that far removed from a season where Pavelec and Hutchinson had .920 and .914 save percentages that got the Jets to the playoffs. Maurice was the coach that season too. Surely with better goaltending he can bring the White Out to Winnipeg once again.
According to Mangameslost.com, the Jets have lost 351 man-games this season due to injury. That’s second in the league, right behind the Canucks. For comparison, the Capitals lost only 44 man-games thus far. The Jets lost Tyler Myers, a key defenseman, for practically the whole season. Add a Trouba lockout for another 13 games. What choice are you left with? I’m sure most coaches in the league would overuse Byfuglien the way Maurice did.
How about Bryan Little’s injury? How much did this team suffer without him in the lineup? Little wins face-offs (his win percentage is top 10 in the league). He contributes offensively (sixth highest points on the team). To top it all off, he’s defensively responsible in all zones. Losing an integral center like Little for a third of the season would negatively affect any NHL team’s path to the playoffs.
Every team goes through injuries but the two key injuries mentioned have profoundly affected this team. Throw in other long term injuries to role players such as Stafford, Matthias, Perreault, along with Frolik replacement, Armia and it gets a little easier to see why this team struggled the way they did.
Let’s take a trip to a happier time. Remember when the Jets made the playoffs? I’m sure you can. It was only two years ago. Who was the head coach then? Oh right. It’s the same man behind the bench this season.
Look at that 2014-15 roster. Players 23 years old and younger were: Trouba (20), Copp (20), Scheifele (21), Lowry (21), Kane (23), Chiarot (23). Ignore Copp as he played one game with the Jets that season.
This year: Laine (18), Ehlers (20), Connor (20), Petan (21), Morrissey (21), Trouba (22), Dano (22), Copp (22), Scheifele (23), Lowry (23), Hellebuyck (23), Armia (23). That’s a total of 12 players 23 years old and younger. Include Nogier (20) in there too if you want. Most people would agree that’s quite a few inexperienced players to deal with.
It’s kind of funny how fans can forget the Chevy mantra of “draft and develop”. He’s only been saying it for years. Look at the list above again and tell me how great of a job Chevy has done at the drafts. A few picks weren’t his, but the point is, his shelves are getting full. We’re in the midst of the “develop” phase now, folks.
Developing players is not easy and unfortunately it can take a long time. This season is proof of that. Give Maurice his extension and plug the holes. When the time is right let Maurice flip the switch from player’s coach to disciplinarian.
I recall Chevy recently adding a third phase to his mantra. It now goes:
“Draft, develop, and dominate”.
It’s only fair we let Maurice in on the third phase too.
What do you think? Let me know on Twitter: @FJAllanMadriaga and @FJHockeyCorner
Photos by Star Roxas | Filipino Journal