The Claude Noel era came to an abrupt end on Sunday morning, which also meant my January vacation was cut short by a day.
Mexico was great by the way, but I’ll admit that when I woke up Sunday, I started checking my phone for emails, tweets and text messages and thought I might be called into action.
The Spider Senses were tingling, if you will.
After I got off the plane Saturday night, I turned on the radio broadcast on my iPhone while I waited to get through customs and then to pick up my suitcase.
During those nine minutes of playing time before I got into a cab heading for home, the Jets went from holding a 1-0 advantage to trailing 4-1 in a game that ended 6-3 in favour of the Columbus Blue Jackets that extended a losing skid to a season-worst five games.
Boos were raining down at MTS Centre and Noel took longer than normal before finally emerging for his usual post-game presser, another signal that something may have been brewing.
As I made my way down for breakfast, Darren Dreger Tweeted that Noel was indeed out. Shortly thereafter he reported that Paul Maurice was taking over.
The Jets made the news official and a frantic Sunday was underway.
All hands were on deck, so be sure to check out the extensive package in Monday’s Sun and available online at www.winnipegsun.com.
Kirk Penton took care of the news of the day and got player reaction, columnist Paul Friesen weighs in with what the move means for the organization, sports editor Ted Wyman pens a column on why Noel had to go and I composed a piece providing some background on Maurice.
I reached out to Noel for his reaction as well, but not surprisingly, he kept his thoughts to himself on Sunday (as expected). He’s probably going to need a day or several to process what took place here, but I hope to hear from him at some point and will share his thoughts when I do.
History will record that Noel finished his Jets’ tenure with a record of 80-79-18.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think Noel did a terrible job, nor was he unqualified to do the job. He’s a bright hockey mind, but the fact the Jets have many of the same issues in Year 3 that they had in Year 1 (woeful inconsistency, poor goals for/goals against ratio, not being a tough enough team to play against) was a big factor in him getting canned.
For whatever reason, the Jets never fully bought into Noel’s program. Though there were some flashes shown, the Jets simply couldn’t sustain much momentum and were regularly spinning their collective wheels and searching for answers.
Given the Jets’ expectations of being a playoff contender and currently finding themselves occupying the basement of the Central Division, it’s not a surprise that Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff decided he needed to make a change.
Although I wasn’t down at MTS Centre for the press conference, I tuned in to hear Cheveldayoff speak during his 25-plus minute address and he shared a little more than he usually does and the frustration was highly evident in his voice as he spoke about a variety of issues.
What’s clear was that Cheveldayoff didn’t expect to be at this stage of the building plan and he also took his share of the blame for not doing more to help make Noel’s job easier.
What was even more surprising is that Cheveldayoff admitted he initially reached out to Maurice to gauge his interest after the Jets lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday — should he get to the point of deciding to make a move.
Cheveldayoff finally reached the boiling point on Saturday night and informed Noel and assistant coach Perry Pearn of the decision on Sunday morning before driving to MTS Iceplex to meet with the players and explain the situation.
I’m among those who find it interesting that Pearn was the only assistant coach let go at this time but Cheveldayoff explained that Pearn had a strong voice and suggested he was closely aligned with Noel. Apparently, Maurice didn’t argue when Cheveldayoff made the recommendation.
I use the word interesting because Pearn was only brought on board by Noel for the second season, yet he was more closely aligned with the bench boss than the two guys who were on Noel’s staff from the beginning?
I’m not advocating for the removal of Charlie Huddy or Pascal Vincent, it’s just interesting that the new head coach didn’t want to bring in his own guys or at least one of them.
Huddy’s work with the Jets’ defence corps has been well-documented, so I would expect him to be around for the long haul.
However, I will be surprised though if Maurice isn’t allowed to bring someone he knows and trusts on board at some point, if not before then perhaps during the Olympic break.
Tom Barrasso is a guy who worked with Maurice with the Hurricanes and again last season in the KHL, while others with Hurricanes or Toronto connections could also be considered. Guys like Kevin McCarthy, Randy Ladouceur or Tom Rowe come to mind but perhaps Maurice has someone else in mind.
That’s a subject for another day though.
Let’s shift the focus right now to Maurice, who had his playing career cut short during his fourth Ontario Hockey League season with the Windsor Spitfires because of an eye injury and quickly moved behind the bench, rising through the ranks quickly before getting his first NHL head coaching gig at 28 with the Hartford Whalers.
Maurice led the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup final in 2002, losing in five games to the vaunted Detroit Red Wings and in one of the more interesting developments I can remember, he actually replaced the man who actually replaced him in 2004-05 when he returned to lead the Hurricanes in 2008 after Peter Laviolette was fired.
Oddly enough, some fans were hoping that Laviolette would take over here if Noel was shown the door.
From my perch in the press box, the hiring of Maurice makes a lot of sense and I’m not the least bit surprised that he was first person Cheveldayoff reached out to.
I’ve had some dealings in the past with Maurice, first in the American Hockey League when he was the head coach of the Toronto Marlies during the 2005-06 season and then during the first season the Jets were back in the NHL (before Maurice was fired in late November and replaced by Kirk Muller) — and the thing that stands out to me was that he’s a bright hockey mind who has great passion for the game.
Maurice has a big task ahead of him, but he’s never been the kind of guy to shy away from a challenge — which could help explain why a guy with his level of experience agreed to a handshake deal until the end of the season rather than demanding a multi-year contract.
Maurice wasn’t made available to the media on Sunday, but he’s going to speak to reporters after Monday’s morning skate and he’ll be behind the bench when the Jets face the Phoenix Coyotes.
I was able to speak with a player who knows Maurice well — Hurricanes D-man Jay Harrison, who played for Maurice in three stops and provided some nice insight.
San Jose Sharks director of pro scouting John Ferguson Jr. — who hired Maurice to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006 — also spoke highly of Maurice when I chatted with him on the phone Sunday night.
There’s a lot for Maurice to do in a short period of time — does he move Dustin Byfuglien back to defence or keep him at right-wing among the Top-6 forwards and does he stick with starter Ondrej Pavelec are two questions near the top of the list — but the most important thing will do to install his defensive system and take the first steps in wiping the slate clean and trying to leave his mark on a Jets’ group that by its own admission, is in a bit of a fragile state.
With a new man behind the bench coming in with fresh ideas, it’s essentially an open audition for the players on the roster, perhaps a chance for some to enhance their role while others are going to need to be sharper in order to keep their spot in the lineup.
Interesting times are certainly ahead.
Time to get some rest, as Monday figures to be another long day.