It wasn’t a proclamation, so much as a belief that Claude Noel hopes becomes fact.
The Winnipeg Jets’ head coach likes the hand he’s been dealt courtesy the Atlanta Thrashers and some additions via free agency and trades. And he believes with a tweak or two and some sweat equity this franchise can become a playoff squad.
Here are a snippet of the boss’s thoughts after Day 1 at the controls:
❚ His overall take:
"Some guys really stood out in my mind. You have to remember, I don’t know them. There’s a big difference from watching tape and watching video on players to being on the ice with players. You really get a sense for how good these players are. You watch Wheeler skate around and some of the big guys, Ladd... it’s impressive. They’re big trains.
"Their work ethic, their attention to detail, their attitudes all looked really good. I thought it was a tremendous first day for us."
❚ On his introductory speech and how this team evolves into a playoff contender:
"I just talked about the fact that we want to win here this year.
"We want to pay attention to detail and how that could separate us from an average team to a team that can maybe gain 16 points and get us to 96 (the New York Rangers, eighth in the East, had 93 last season).
"I also talked about how a lot of people on this staff, whether it be management staff or coaching staff, have had familiarity with winning and we think we know how to get this done. We want to try and portray that to the players. We think we know what we’re doing and we’re trying to move in an upward fashion here."
❚ On how character is defined and what style he wants the squad to play:
"The character is going to be defined a lot by your leadership group, the coaching staff, the organization. But it’s going to be about paying attention to detail and being a lot better defending and checking. So that’s going to be clear.
"For me, the one identifying thing I see is it looks like we have skill and speed. I want us to play quicker, faster and with that I’d like to say quicker pace, push the pace. I’d like us to play harder but with speed."
❚ On what areas need improvement:
"The two glaring points that stand out are the goals against (29th last year) and the penalty kill (27th), those would be two of the areas we want to try and repair.
"To me, it’s going to get repaired with experience and growth from the younger players getting better and playing in Canada, possibly with the enthusiasm... who knows? Are we going to be the same team in October that we’re going to be in March and April, we don’t know that. Right now we have our players, we like what we have, but time will tell. A month in, are we lacking things? Do we have the character like we thought we did? We’ll let it all play out and see how it goes."
❚ Will this team score by committee?
"We’re going to get some guys who have a good jump (in scoring). But everyone is going to have to take part. Our defence is going to have to get involved. Our ‘D’ is going to have to get up the ice and play. When I look at our team, I don’t see a third-line checking line. So how are we going to get this done? I see three lines and our fourth line pushing, too."