NEW YORK — After getting the green light from his family after sitting down at the table with them to discuss the future, Paul Maurice is getting his wish.
As I was watching the New York Rangers go through the paces at their practice rink in Greenburgh, the Jets unveiled that Maurice had signed a four-year contract to remain as head coach.
I wrote a column back on Mar. 14 saying I expected Maurice to be back and that a four-year deal would probably get it done, so this doesn’t come as a surprise.
Neither is the timing of it. During his address on Sunday, Maurice hinted that something could happen after the organizational meetings were complete and he returned home to see his wife and kids.
“I actually flew home yesterday because I had made the promise to the family that we were doing it at the kitchen table. And I’d said that enough times in the media that I can’t now do this by phone,” said Cheveldayoff. “Kevin and I quickly agreed to what was fair for both sides…. got home and that took about three minutes, too. Said I wanted to go to Winnipeg and I wanted the family to be a part of it, and I thought it’d be great for the family. They all smiled and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I called Kevin and said we’re in, and put a (For Sale) sign on the front steps today.”
Why not wait to see if some other NHL teams might come calling?
“I looked around. That’s part of what you do as a coach, try to find the best place. There wasn’t in my mind another place like this, that fit for me. This was the team I wanted to coach,” said Maurice. “I don’t want to say I had my eye on this job. But I had my eye on this team for a while. I thought there was enough improvement that could be made with the personnel here, and because it was so young it could get better. It’s the place that best suits my strengths and what we can do in the short-term.”
There was plenty of talking about structure and continuing to push for the answer of what Jets’ hockey is going to look like.
Maurice showed me enough since taking over from Claude Noel on Jan. 12 and it will be interesting to see what he can do with the benefit of having a full training camp.
It’s going to be a tougher training camp, with an emphasis on increasing the conditioning levels, something players were warned about but are apparently on board with (not that they have much of a choice if they want to remain in the lineup).
“I’ve gotten fairly good over the years at knowing when a player’s saying what you want to hear and when they’re telling you what they mean and what they believe. And the core veteran guys want that direction. They like the focus of where we’re going, and they just want to win. They love playing for the Winnipeg Jets,” said Maurice. “What we’ve got to do is get this thing on track, so that those kind of leaders want to be here when the time comes for them to make the decision.”
Here’s what Cheveldayoff had to say about keeping Maurice in the fold.
“We’re extremely proud and looking forward to the future with Paul,” said Cheveldayoff. “It was a real pleasure to sit there and have discussions about the future and see his excitement with respect to what we have here today… and direction and plan we want to take this franchise in. We strongly believe in the plan. We are extremely excited about having a coach that believes in the plan that is excited to be here. He’s excited to get his family situated in Winnipeg. It’s an important day.
“He has the experience of being with different organizations at different cycles that they have been in. From the moment he got in here he talked about our size, he talked about our speed. But the thing that really intrigued him was the youth of our team, and the youth of our core. Until you get an opportunity to work with someone, you don’t truly appreciate what they bring to the table on a day-to-day basis. He’s an impressive hockey coach, but he’s a very impressive person, as well.”
Why not consider other alternatives, like Manitoba product Barry Trotz?
“(Maurice) is the right guy. He’s the fit for our organization. He knows this organization in and out,” said Cheveldayoff. “He had the opportunity to say no… to say, ‘You know what? I’ve been here, I’ve looked around, I don’t like it.’ He knows there’s going to be opportunities out there to potentially go to other places. But his enthusiasm and his excitement and genuine feel for this group was certainly something that pushed us. We’re extremely excited about Paul Maurice as our coach.”
The contracts of both men expire at the same time, so it’s obvious these two will sink or swim together.
Aside from getting his contract taken care of, Maurice was also confirmed as an assistant coach with Team Canada for next month’s IIHF world men’s championship in Minsk, Belarus, joining a staff that includes Peter DeBoer of the New Jersey Devils and head coach Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes.
One of the players Maurice and company will be coaching is Jets centre Mark Scheifele, who is recovering nicely from a knee injury he suffered on Mar. 4 against the New York Islanders.
“It’s coming long good. I feel stronger and I feel more comfortable with my knee, it’s been feeling good lately,” Scheifele said on Sunday before answering my question about the hit from Calvin de Haan that landed him on the shelf. “Obviously, I wasn’t happy about it. I know it’s hockey and I’ve probably taken a hit like that hundreds of times in my life. It just caught me at a split second that I was vulnerable. It’s a tough thing to deal with, but it was better than what it could have been and I’m happy with that.
“It’s tough to be out any time and to be out in the playoff push, it definitely sucked to not be with the guys at that time of the year. Every night, I wished I was out there and next year, I’m going to come back stronger and that much more hungry.”
Shifting gears, if you hadn’t already noticed, social media nearly exploded during Cheveldayoff’s press conference as he boldly announced that Ondrej Pavelec would be the Jets’ No. 1 goalie next season.
Pavelec’s struggles last season were well-documented, but this move doesn’t come as a big surprise either. There’s no way Maurice gives his vote of confidence like he did on Sunday if the Jets were considering a buyout for Pavelec.
Maurice went out of his way to say you won’t get a good read on Pavelec’s potential until the Jets play better in front of him, something I’ve been saying for a few years now.
Time will tell obviously, what we know for sure is that unless Cheveldayoff changes his minded or something unexpected happens, the Jets will take a pass on using one of their compliance buyouts on Pavelec and won’t pay the embattled netminder around $8 million to do nothing or to play for another team.
“He’s relatively a young goaltender when it comes to being a starting goaltender. When you give those young players those opportunities to excel, there’s going to be some bumps along the way,” said Cheveldayoff. “Like any professional athlete, the onus is on them to take care of all the things they need to do. The onus is on the coach and the org to put a plan in place to have players being able to succeed in the course of being a team.
“As far as statistical date, we could sit here and have debates all day about different percentages or goals against… at the end of the day, everyone gets judged on the results. If we sat there and broke it into 10-game segments, I’m sure there are some great segments there that Ondrej would have had. You take some other 10-game segments and there’s probably some that he’d like back.”
It’s obvious that this is a huge summer for Pavelec and it will be interesting to see what he’s going to do after getting the support of his head coach and GM in April and not having to wonder any longer if he’s on the trading block or a candidate to be bought out.
Getting into the best shape of his career seems like an obvious place to start and doing whatever it takes to repair his confidence should be high on the priority list as well.
Speaking of goalies, Cheveldayoff was noncommittal when asked about the backup position.
“There’s still some analysis that will go on there,”he said. “We’ve got some good young goaltenders within our system right now. We saw Hutch play at the end of the year, and played really well. No decisions have been made, yet.”
Michael Frolik, a pending RFA who put up 15 goals and 42 points, is a top priority this off-season and I expect the Jets to make him a multiyear offer.
“That’s someone we feel has grown into a big part of this organization and we’ll certainly look at reaching out to his representatives at an appropriate time,” said Cheveldayoff, who went on to say more internal discussions are required on several RFA and UFA fronts.
One UFA who is virtually guaranteed not to be back is Devin Setoguchi, who managed only 11 goals and 27 points in 76 games after arriving from the Minnesota Wild for a second round pick in 2014.
“It was going to be a good gamble to try and expand the core. It goes back to trying to expand the core all the time. Obviously, you have to take some chances,” said Cheveldayoff. “Some of them are going to work out, some of them aren’t. It’s something you certainly learn from. We’re extremely excited what Fro did for us. And obviously with Devin things didn’t quite work out as we had hoped or expected. But you’d say that both ways.
“You’re only given so many different tools to use to try and build (through the draft). If there’s an opportunity to use an asset that will continue to grow the core of our team, we’ll look at that again.”
That’s the attitude Cheveldayoff has to have. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see now that Setoguchi’s production wasn’t worth what turned into the 39th overall pick in 2014 but it probably would have been if he had scored 20 goals instead of 11.
With that in mind, are there some untouchables on the Jets’ roster right now?
“There’s guys we believe are going to be Winnipeg Jets for a long, long time,” said Cheveldayoff. “We hope the players that want to be here that we want to have part of his group will be there. It’s such an overused term. But there’s a lot of guys on this team that I wouldn’t be trading right now. Because I believe they’re going to be players that are going to help us achieve not only making the playoffs, but get beyond the playoffs, beyond rounds in the playoffs.”
Cheveldayoff also talked about working to expand the core and answered a question about the importance of not wasting the prime years of several of the Jets’ key pieces.
“The objective is to get in, certainly, to the playoffs. But the ultimate objective is to go far and deep into the playoffs,” said Cheveldayoff. “And in order to do that you have to establish a core and then build around the core. In the first couple of years we’ve spent the time in trying to establish the core. There’s numerous players that were part of the organization that have moved on. And now you’re seeing several players that have been signed, some of them long-term… it’s about establishing something and then building around it.
“These are experiences they’re going to grow from. The future can only come one day at a time. I can’t accelerate that aspect of things. We’re going to continue to look at different avenues to try and build the team and grow the team and grow people that fit around the core and expand the core. Ultimately what you want is your core to grow from four or five guys to six or seven or eight guys. And people that are on the same and people that are buying into the program Paul is going to put into place.”
So how far along are the Jets’ in their big-picture plan after missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons?
“I don’t know if you can really place a term on rebuilding or retooling. There’s lots of different terms out there. Again, there’s no time frame on development of a young player,” said Cheveldayoff. “And there’s no magic solution to say in X years we will be at this point. Because if anyone can predict the future they’re a better person than I am.
“You don’t sit there and say, ‘in three years we will be at X, or in five years we will be at X.’ You can’t think in those terms. You have to think in how can we grow, how can we build? Sometimes it takes longer than that. Sometimes things happen quicker.
“Certainly we’d love to have made the playoffs, because that is part of the growth of the team. Once you get to that point you learn not only what it takes but what it takes to excel. Everybody is certainly striving for that. And there’s 14 other teams saying the same message here at that point. So not making the playoffs is obviously disappointing for everybody. It’s why you play the game. But you can really lose sight of the long-range plans if you fall prey to the short-term disappointments. I’d love to find that magic cure to say, ‘If we just get this guy, we’re in.’ But the game doesn’t lend itself like that.”
Cheveldayoff spoke for nearly 50 minutes and columnist Paul Friesen handled all of the stories on Maurice, the Jets’ GM and a sidebar on Maurice and Scheifele heading to the worlds in Thursday’s paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com.
Be sure to check out my playoff picks on the blog and remember I’ll be covering the series between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers for the Sun Media chain and QMI Agency.
Enjoy the playoffs folks. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts in the comments section, on Twitter or by email to email@example.com.