The inability of the Winnipeg Jets to take the proverbial next step – to morph from also-ran to playoff contender – ultimately cost head coach Claude Noel his job.
And now GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is hoping Paul Maurice can somehow squeeze more out of a squad that hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2006-07 and just once in the franchise’s history here in Winnipeg and in Atlanta.
Mired in a five-game losing streak that had dropped them to 19-23-5, the Jets informed Noel and assistant coach Perry Pearn Sunday morning that they had been relieved of their duties. Assistants Charlie Huddy, Pascal Vincent and Wade Flaherty will remain on board.
Cheveldayoff said seeing the Jets booed off the ice after home losses to Tampa and Columbus this week played a part in the decision, but this was more of a bigger-picture take on a team that is spinning its wheels.
"It really wasn’t a single thing," said Cheveldaoff. "Over the course of a period of time here there was a certain level of expectations that we had collectively for our group of players and individually for players. It just became apparent over the last little while here that things were not trending in the right direction and we were going to have to do something to try and move things back into the fashion of moving forward.
"Certainly (the two home losses) was a contributing factor in the sense that I think there was a lot of players that even singled themselves out for different things. It’s not just the last two games. It’s the consistency factor. We always ask ourselves internally, be it Claude and myself whenever we chatted... ‘Why .500? Why one ahead, one back? Two ahead, two back?’ It was obviously something we’ve talked about tremendously and will continue to be talked about until we can get it going in the right direction.
"Will further changes have to be made over the course of time? Sure. It’s just now trying to figure out what is going to be the best direction for those changes moving forward."
Cheveldayoff met Sunday morning with the players, who were scheduled to practice at MTS Iceplex but instead went through an off-ice workout session.
"The nuts and bolts are going to stay within the room," said Cheveldayoff. "But, generally speaking, any time good people lose their opportunities at their job there’s responsibility that has to be taken by everybody. We talked long about that. We talked about the life of being in professional sports and the accountability and levels people are held to in those regards. We talked that it’s not always fair but there are some realities and each and every one of them and all of us have to look at how we can be better and see where maybe we would have done some things differently and not get to this point."
In hiring Maurice the Jets are getting a 46-year-old veteran of the NHL coaching ranks who has guided his team to playoffs, understands the demands of working in a Canadian market and has experienced both the highs and lows of life as a bench boss. Cheveldayoff contacted Maurice after last Tuesday’s loss to Tampa and then called him again after the loss to the Blue Jackets. He was to arrive Sunday night and be on the ice with the Jets Monday morning in advance of their home date with the Phoenix Coyotes.
"Claude did a lot. He’s a special person, a very caring person who worked extremely hard," said Cheveldayoff. "The fact that I’m standing here is not about what he didn’t do. Moving forward, Paul is someone who has good experience at the National Hockey League level. He’s coached a lot of different types of teams, he’s had experience with both veteran players and young players and has had success with both. He’s experienced both sides of things. He’s experienced success, he’s experienced failure. He’s battle-hardened. He’s energetic and chomping at the bit to get back in the National Hockey League. Someone with a lot of experience will be invaluable to us as we continue to evaluate what we have here and what changes in the future might be necessary.
"This is something none of us take lightly and from that standpoint we’re very fortunate to have someone like Paul coming in here at this point in time."