Maurice believes his best coaching is yet to come

- January 15th, 2014

The Winnipeg Jets hit the ice on Wednesday afternoon for their final full practice before flying to Calgary to prepare for Thursday’s game against the Flames.

I spent a good chunk of today’s session watching Paul Maurice take charge of his second workout, continuing his quest to push the pace and slowly but surely, implement a few things that will help the Jets become a tougher team to play against.

I also watched how intently the players hung on his every word, which is not uncommon for players trying to impress their new boss, but remains important to the buy-in process nonetheless.

Maurice raised his voice on occasion and sprinkled some colourful language in at times.

When asked about it during his meeting with the media, Maurice had to chuckle and then blamed his wife, jokingly of course.

“My voice is out of shape,” said Maurice. “You can’t work on this at home with your kids. They don’t take to getting screamed at, at the kitchen table. I’m sucking (on) Halls like nobody’s business right now.”

When asked about his coaching style and whether he could be considered a hard ass?

“It changes. You’re going to see a practice where I don’t say a word. I don’t know if I want to be described a certain way,” said Maurice. “I know I got a lot of games in but I’m 46 years old. I still think my best coaching is ahead of me and I’m still learning and changing. Right now, this is what they need – in my belief – they need somebody to say ‘this is what we’re doing.’ I love practice. When I get out there I get a little lathered, I get a little excited and on the bench too. It’s fun for me. When things are going really well, I’ll be quiet.”

There been no shortage of passion coming from Maurice during the first few days on the job and that fact doesn’t figure to change much, which is a good thing.

Maurice has evolved since taking his first NHL head coaching job as a 28-year-old with the Hartford Whalers. He’s seen a lot and learned a lot since those days and he figures to be more prepared for this gig, especially after spending last season in the Kontinental Hockey League to broaden his horizons.

The Jets go into Thursday’s action at 20-23-5 and their 45 points leave them in the basement of the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference.

As for the Flames, they’ve fallen on hard times after a decent start.

The Flames are 16-25-6 overall and have scored only five goals during their past five games and have been shut out twice during that span.

The Jets have already lost once to the Flames this season (in a shootout).

“They’ll battle to get to the right spots on the ice as priority one and in the way that Bob Hartley has trained them over training camp and the fact that they understand who they are, means you’re not getting a free inch,” said Maurice. “This is a huge challenge for us, from what I’ve heard about the way this has gone, the up and down. We just won 5-1, so right now in that room they’re thinking, we might win, 7-1, next game. We got to make sure as a staff that we do everything we possibly can (to make sure) that’s not the mentality going in to this game or we will lose.”

Jets veteran centre Olli Jokinen said Maurice was a little bit old school and big on details.

My column out of today focuses on Maurice and has some strong reaction from a few Jets.

My notebook deals with a variety of topics, including F Devin Setoguchi being questionable for Thursday’s game because of illness. It’s possible that Setoguchi could fly to Calgary Thursday morning if his health improves, but if he can’t play Eric O’Dell gets a bump onto the line with Jokinen and Dustin Byfuglien.

Byfuglien has spoken to the media more this month than he probably spoke last season (and we thank him for it), but while he wasn’t asked for today, he was sure to remind O’Dell who he was skating with as he made his way out of the locker room.

That’s another example of Byfuglien being Byfuglien and showing his lighter side.

My other sidebar was on the return of D Paul Postma to practice.

Postma has been out since late October after doctors found a blood clot in his calf.

He remains on medication for a few more days and then will be re-assessed and is hopeful to be ready to return to game action during the next week to 10 days.

Given the nature of the injury, the best course of action for Postma (who has only played eight games this season) is probably to accept a conditioning stint and go down to the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League to get some games under his belt.

That’s a topic for another day though.

Speaking of injuries, Evander Kane (hand) stayed back in Winnipeg to continue his rehab for what Maurice described as a deep cut.

Meanwhile, C Jim Slater (sports hernia) and F Matt Halischuk (fractured forearm) skated after Wednesday’s practice as they continue to get closer to full health. Maurice didn’t have a timetable for their potential return, he’s got more pressing matters to deal with.

There was a funny moment at the end of Maurice’s press conference when I asked him about a quote that Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Jay Harrison used to describe him.

Harrison’s kind words about Maurice in my column were well received, from both Maurice and his father apparently.

“I know I give long answers but when he says that, five things run into my head,” said Maurice. “So I got the job (Sunday) and it got released around 10 or 11 o’clock here and I’m at the Toronto airport seven hours later and I still haven’t called my parents. So I made the quick call and called them back last night.

“My dad is a big Jay Harrison fan and he’s reading the article and all I can think is that it was wonderful to hear that from a player. I’m not that good, that article is way better than I am from the quotes in it.”

Colleague Kirk Penton is covering the game in Calgary, so follow him on Twitter for updates at @PentonKirk

I’ll check back with you on Friday to tee up Saturday’s matinee against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Oilers made a couple deals on Wednesday, trading Devan Dubnyk to the Nashville Predators for gritty forward Matt Hendricks, then picked up goalie Ben Scrivens from the Los Angeles Kings for a third round pick in 2014.

Although the advanced stats folks don’t see much value in Hendricks, he’s a character guy who can play centre or wing, will bring a physical presence and some leadership into a young Oilers’ dressing room that clearly needs a few strong voices.

While covering the Washington Capitals/New York Rangers first round playoff series last spring, it was obvious the value of Hendricks stretched well beyond the goals and assists and that’s one of the reasons I thought the Jets might pursue him as a free agent last July to try and upgrade their third or fourth line.

Hendricks instead signed a four-year deal worth $7.4 million with the Predators and things didn’t work out there.

As for Scrivens, he played for Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins with the Toronto Marlies and while he’s a UFA at the end of the season, this is an opportunity to show what he can do and being an Alberta boy, if things go reasonably well sticking around Edmonton might make sense for him.

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