Should the Winnipeg Jets retain Paul Maurice as coach for next season the first thing they should do is buy him a plane ticket for Russia. And then Latvia.
The Jets have three players -- Alex Burmistrov, Ivan Telegin and Arturs Kulda -- who spent the season in the KHL and would better serve the organization in North America.
Winnipeg can't afford to play "it's our way or the highway," at this stage of the organization's development. Maurice has the ability to walk the fine line, being both a players' coach and one that holds his group accountable.
Maurice was asked recently about his experiences coaching in Russia and spoke with empathy for players trying to cross over into a new hockey culture. If the Jets are hoping to build a bridge with any of these players, Maurice might prove the answer.
"Probably the biggest thing I walked away with is a blanket apology to every Russian player I ever coached. When they come to Canada and play the way they do, there's a reason for it. Things sometimes get said about them, like they're not tough, but I can tell you there are tough players over there. They just play the game so differently," said Maurice. "We expect them to make adjustments in a couple of weeks when they get here... you want them to tip the puck in and chase it, and you want them to do this and go there, and then you think they don't want to play your game. It's not like that at all, and you'd have to be there to see where they come from... the culture and the hockey. So a blanket apology... I have a better understanding of their world, how they train, how they play, and why they play the way they do."
Both Burmistrov and Kulda could help the Jets at the NHL level right now and Telegin should be heading to the Calder Cup playoffs with the St. John's IceCaps. Who knows, maybe Telegin could have taken advantage of some early seasoning in the AHL and now be skating on the Jets' third or fourth line, where there are currently a number of non-factors collecting NHL paycheques.
Burmistrov is a first-round pick with lots of ability and certainly would have been a welcome player when rookie centre Mark Scheifele suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Burmistrov and former Jets head coach Claude Noel battled last season and when GM Kevin Cheveldayoff entered into negotiations with agent Mark Gandler during the off-season it was quickly apparent the KHL was the favoured option for the Russian.
Maurice, however, could change the climate between Burmistrov and the Jets.
Burmistrov had 10 goals and 27 points in 54 KHL games with Kazan Ak-Bars this season after signing a two-year deal during the summer. Standard KHL contracts do not have NHL out clauses although some players are able to secure riders allowing them to return to North America. Calls and emails to Gandler went unanswered Sunday, so Burmistrov's KHL contract status could not be determined.
Regardless of whether Burmistrov is available next season or for the 2015-16 season, getting him to give the NHL another try is in the best interest of the Jets, at the very least for the purpose of trading him.
Kulda was excellent playing for Latvia at the Olympics. He told me he'd only come back if he was given a chance to play in Winnipeg. From what I saw at the Olympics, he's ready for that chance.
Telegin left for Russia after being sent down to St. John's out of training camp. The Jets originally suspended him before softening their stance and loaning him to Metallurg Novokuznetsk before he was transferred to CSKA Moscow.
Burmistrov is a restricted free agent, as is Kulda, and both would have to be signed to new contracts before they could play for the Jets. Telegin is under contract.
Maurice, or whoever ends up coaching the Jets next season, will represent the dawn of a new era behind the bench. Why not ring in a little glasnost at the same time where these players are concerned?
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless