Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets coach lays down the law

Maurice sends team a message by benching healthy Kane

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The reason Evander Kane was scratched Saturday will remain a mystery for a while but the response of his teammates to the discipline laid down by coach Paul Maurice was as evident as the absence of the man who calls himself the Natural.

The Jets, with their season a failure and the playoffs gone, put forth one of their best efforts of the season against Toronto. They worked and sacrificed and bled like this was a real, live playoff game.

Their coach put himself in the firing line by disciplining one of the team's most talented and popular players. Maurice's act of leadership is something this group has been needing for some time. The players recognize this and understand this. They want to win to get their careers in motion. As captain Andrew Ladd said the other day about missing the playoffs for four straight seasons, "It's floating by."

Maurice represents a path to more meaningful games through work and professionalism. The Jets want and crave this. They're willing to live with a firm hand if it gets them the results they desire. Paul Maurice is in charge. If that wasn't clear before Saturday, it is now. What is also clear is the bulk of this dressing room not only respect Maurice but support him.

Leadership has been a question mark with this team. No longer. They have a leader and it's Maurice. Get on board or get lost.

No. 9 is living in a house built for a K9 right now and regardless of the reason, too often with this organization that hasn't resulted in real consequences. Maurice's willingness to bench erstwhile forward Devin Setoguchi, soon to be an unrestricted free agent and as good as gone, is one thing.

Planting the team's soon-to-be highest paid player in the press box is another. Maurice's decision to sit Kane will have consequences for both the player, the coach and their future relationship.

Kane pushed former coach Claude Noel further down the plank he was already walking this winter when Kane was kept out of a game for medical reasons. Noel was already in trouble as a coach, and the rumours of his having lost the room were swirling like water in a jet-propelled toilet.

Kane told TSN play-by-play man Gord Miller, one of the biggest names in hockey media, he was a healthy scratch during a press box chat. The broadcaster then took the item to air.

Noel reiterated after the game Kane had not cleared medical protocol, but the next day when the player was asked about the situation by the local print and broadcast media he stood by his claim of health.

"I felt healthy enough to play," Kane said. "The definition of a healthy scratch is a healthy player not playing, so that was my interpretation. It's pretty obvious that's what it was."

Having one of the Jets' central figures come out and openly challenge the coach's authority certainly didn't douse the flames already scorching Noel's job security.

Kane was allowed to wag the dog. It was a sign of weakness for the franchise.

It will be interesting to see if Kane elects to take on Maurice in the manner he was willing to with a drowning man such as Noel.

And if he does, Maurice's reaction will be just as telling for the future of this team.

The Jets have left the reasons for Kane's benching open to speculation. Here's Maurice on the decision:

"That was the coach's decision," Maurice said. "You'll get no rationale from me."

Jets management, including a very capable communications department, could have easily had the coach say the benching was due to a dip in Kane's play. Three goals in 22 games and none in his last seven presented ample reason for Maurice to give Kane a night off.

None of that was offered up by Maurice, however.

The reason behind Kane's benching will eventually come out. These things always do.

But for me, the cause is far less important than the effect.

Coaches can talk all they want about doing things a certain way, but if they're unwilling to have the courage of their convictions nothing will change.

Such leadership, it would appear, is no longer a healthy scratch in Winnipeg.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 D2

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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
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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