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If Noel axed, he shouldn't go alone... leaders share the blame

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Kevin Cheveldayoff, whether he wants to do it or not, must at least be considering firing Claude Noel.

But replacing the coach is not enough to fix this club. If Noel is to go, so too should the clique running this team's dressing room.

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Firing Noel at this stage won't accomplish much. This team doesn't have enough talent and it doesn't have strong leadership. A new coach alone won't make a difference.

Cheveldayoff has to break up the cartel leading these players. One of the big pieces needs to be removed via trade to augment any coaching change.

If a fresh perspective behind the bench is deemed the appropriate measure, it must be coupled with new accountability among the players. The big boys with the Winnipeg Jets don't push one another. They don't demand a high enough standard from within.

Take your pick. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien or Blake Wheeler should be on the way out of town at the same time as Noel.

So fine, clip Noel. But fire the leadership group, too.

I've stumped for Noel in this space for a long time. I pushed for his hiring and I was on the record saying he deserved an extension. I know he is a good man full of passion and dedication. I also know he has a fine hockey mind.

But maybe that's not enough. Maybe he's not a fit for this group. So -- and Cheveldayoff will have more information to lead his decision than anyone else -- maybe it's time for Noel to go.

I can neither endorse nor oppose a firing. The record, 19-22-5 this season and 80-78-18 overall, doesn't support an argument for keeping the coach or dismissing him.

Have the Jets improved in parts of three seasons under Noel? Or have they just been treading water? The latter seems to be true and that's a result of several factors, including coaching. Noel, like any professional coach, is ultimately responsible for the team going forward or being stuck in neutral.

Cheveldayoff will have come to a judgment on whether Noel is reaching his team and getting close to the max from the talent he's been provided. The GM's conclusion will lead him to the next step.

There is lots of blame to go around for the current state of the Jets. From the natural progression of Cheveldayoff's organizational plan, to Noel and finally the leadership group, the results are poor. There is no evidence they will improve soon. I have made the argument that's just the reality of the approach the organization is taking but many believe the team as it is currently constructed should garner better results.

If Cheveldayoff is also of that opinion, then change has to be around the corner.

Cheveldayoff has been very clear in his belief development can't be rushed. It will happen at its own pace. To that end, the GM has done what he has said he would do and used draft picks to restock his organization.

One might argue the patience being extended Cheveldayoff and his plan should also protect the coach.

Certainly, Noel has made mistakes. But is that a result of trying to plug too many holes without enough stoppers? Or is it bad coaching?

I lean to the former but there's no such thing as "fair" in these dealings. In the end Noel, is judged by the results and they haven't been good.

The top dogs in this dressing room have been together for some time now and they have not taken a step forward. They say the right things but then they perform like they did in Tuesday's humiliating loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Byfuglien, and not Noel, left Marty St. Louis unchecked in the slot in the third period of a tie game, resulting in a gimme winner for the Bolts.

Noel didn't take part in some 20 minutes of ice time and generate just two shots on goal as the No. 1 line of Bryan Little, Ladd and Wheeler did.

Their level of output suggests they've deemed such a performance as acceptable. That's on them, not the coach.

The Jets aren't a very good team. From this perspective, that's a function of being in the early stages of a rebuild. But Cheveldayoff may think he's not getting enough from the players he has and there's lots of arguments to support such thinking.

So it's not an unreasonable conclusion to reach that Noel has to pay the price for the circumstances the Jets are in. But he should share the bill with some of his leaders. Because if Noel has failed, they have, too.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2014 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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