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A (small) vote of confidence

Noel gets new deal but must 'raise the bar'

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Claude Noel has been around pro hockey long enough -- from the NAHL, IHL, ECHL, AHL to the NHL -- to understand how all this works.

A one-year contract extension through 2014-15, like the one he officially received Monday from the Winnipeg Jets, offers a teeny-tiny bit of security in a cutthroat, win-now business. But it will also mean diddly and squat 10 months from now if Noel & Co. haven't taken this squad into the post-season.

"It's not a new market to us anymore, everything is in place," said Noel in a conference call Monday afternoon. "So for me, from the standpoint of an expectation level, I think we need to raise the bar.

'It's not a new market to us anymore, everything is in place. So for me, from the standpoint of an expectation level, I think we need to raise the bar.

We HAVE to make the playoffs'

-- Claude Noel

"We HAVE to make the playoffs."

Noel will be entering his third season as the Jets bench boss this fall with a 61-56-13 overall record. The Jets were 11th in the Eastern Conference in Year 1 in Winnipeg and ninth, four points out of the playoffs, this past year.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, in announcing Noel's extension, spoke of the growth of some of the team's younger players under the coach's watch, adding the staff "deserves the opportunity to continue the job they've been doing."

Interestingly, both Noel and Cheveldayoff attempted to somewhat downplay the significance of the extension but, clearly, if the coach had entered 2013-14 without this size-small vote of confidence it would have possibly created a distracting season-long discussion point.

"I suppose every situation is a little bit different," Noel said. "It depends on the relationship the coach has with the players. Certainly, for me, whether I was going into my last year or not I don't think it changes the way I coach. I don't think I turn around and say, 'Oh, there's some urgency now' because I'm going into my last year.

"I coach the same way regardless of what season I'm into (the contract). The goals remain the same, the drive and the passion remains the same and I don't see myself changing and I certainly don't see myself taking the job or the seriousness of the job any lighter.

"I don't play too much into the length," he added. "I know I had one more year existing on my contract and now it's been extended to two. For me, the fact they have enough confidence to extend another season sends a very clear, confident message to me."

Noel will now wait to see what kind of hand he's dealt by Cheveldayoff over the next few months. The Jets enter this weekend's draft with nine unrestricted free agents and eight restricted free agents, including key cogs Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler.

And until his depth chart becomes concrete, Noel said he'll fixate on fixing the team's horrific goal differential -- they were -16 in 48 games this past winter -- while stressing the same approach to the game.

"I'd like to see us play with more speed... I want to make sure that we are playing faster, quicker and harder and we're checking better," said Noel. "I still keep going back to that goal differential, it's something we really have to get a handle on.

"I like our team, I like our players. I like a lot of what they bring to the table. I look forward to this season because I think there's a lot of growth that's still ready to go and more to improve upon. And there are some areas I see our team getting better with what we have. Those are the things that excite me."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2013 C2

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Updated on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 6:39 AM CDT: replaces photo, adds video

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