Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Skate 'em till they puke

Time for Noel to stop being nice, make players pay price for poor play

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Five games into the season and the Winnipeg Jets have already put forth three efforts that would be classified as no shows by a New Jersey union boss.

Like one of those mobbed-up construction projects where guys get paid but only have to show up to collect their cheque.

An entire job site of no-show contractors results in nothing getting built. So far the Jets have only dug a hole.

This isn't about Xs and Os. It's about execution. Will and effort. The Jets took their lack of engagement to a new level in Friday night's 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. The first 20 minutes were dreadful and resulted in a 3-0 lead for the visitors. Maybe there was some improvement in the second and Winnipeg did score in the third but it was window dressing.

This game was lost before it started because the Jets weren't ready to do their jobs.

'That's their job, yes. It's my job to help them. I want to be in the ditch with them. I don't want to be on the top ordering them around, I want to be in the ditch digging in with them'

-- Jets coach Claude Noel

Clearly outclassed, they couldn't even be bothered to muster a physical response. No hitting. A fight? The classic NHL response for a team getting outworked and outscored is still a scrap. But any form of a fight was miles from anyone's mind in a Winnipeg sweater.

The Jets have been a non-playoff team in the two seasons since returning to Winnipeg because of inconsistent play. They have not developed the habits that result in winning hockey. And it all starts with work.

Forget head coach Claude Noel. Blaming him is too easy. It's time for the players in Jets jerseys to be held accountable.

Noel, of course, must play a role in changing this. He needs to lead this group to the water and find a way to get them to drink.

Noel has tried the soft-sell approach. But don't be fooled. He's capable of playing the villain.

He should. And he should do it now.

Time for a big name to take a seat in the press box for a night. Time to get everyone's attention.

"I'm not going to sit here and say it's just on the players," said Noel, when asked Friday about his team still searching for the consistency all successful NHL teams possess. "It's on all of us. That's their job, yes. It's my job to help them. I want to be in the ditch with them. I don't want to be on the top ordering them around, I want to be in the ditch digging in with them. Yes, it's on the players but the onus is on the coaches as well. I would never say it's just the players.

"If they were guys that didn't care it would be a little different, but I don't sense that, I don't see that. They do care. They're trying to help each other and I'm trying to help them. It's all of us. We've got to find a way to play a better game. I've seen it, I've seen the game. What is getting in the way? That's what we're trying to figure out."

Noel is taking the "keep things positive," approach in public and what he's doing behind closed doors will remain an unknown.

But it's time for some tough love. Time for a benching or a bag skate. Or a recall of some kid from the Rock who will play with passion.

The NHL is full of talented players. The Jets have a bunch themselves. But it's hard work and the willingness to sacrifice that forges a winner. Have you seen anything in the Jets this season to convince you they are about to make that step? I haven't.

Noel doesn't have an infinite amount of time to take the Jets to the next level. Sooner or later, if this continues, he'll take the bullet.

Coddling this group hasn't worked.

It's time to ditch the security blanket and get out the whip.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 C2

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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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