Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Coach like you mean it, Claude

At 3-4, this is no time for Noel to be walking on eggshells

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CLAUDE NOEL is no different than any coach in the NHL: he will be fired if his team continues to lose.

Now, more than ever, is the time when he must be himself. The coach seen in past times; the one who is forceful, dynamic and demanding.

Coaching scared or with one arm tied behind his back will only get him clipped. Tiptoeing around doesn't work in the NHL.

The Jets' current trend, losing four out of five games, will cost Noel his job if allowed to continue. He needs to make his stand.

Lots has been said and written about Noel's leash but no one truly knows what the future is for this coach. What we can be certain about is this: If Noel gets this group to the playoffs, he's safe. If he doesn't, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have some thinking to do.

The above statement assumes Noel will be here for the season and given True North's history, that's the most likely outcome. Mark Chipman has owned a pro hockey team since 1996 and fired just one coach in all that time, the irascible Jean Perron.

Cheveldayoff has also proven to be patient and a Philadelphia Flyers-style knee-jerk firing is unlikely.

Could Noel get clipped mid-season? An extended losing streak is the wild card. When the losses stack up, anything is possible.

Noel can't coach frozen or muted. He has to use what's available to him to prod the most out of his group. The lineup card is his hammer. He needs to use it. His message must be clear and backed up with actions. Want to play? Play my way or sit.

Noel can coach and he's got the championship pedigree to prove it. But he must follow his instincts and use his skills. From the outside, there doesn't appear to have been enough of that this season.

Noel likes to treat the Winnipeg Jets like men, like a team that has earned the right to play its way out of a funk. He can't. They haven't proven capable of making the required adjustments and Noel needs to pry those changes out of them.

If that means a Blake Wheeler or Olli Jokinen earns a night in the press box, regardless of the bet placed on him by the GM, then that's what Noel should order.

If he doesn't like what he's getting from certain players on his roster, Noel should ask for a recall from St. John's.

Noel needs to coach like he has no worries, like a man with the power of a long-term deal. He needs to get active now or be prepared to hold his peace and live with the results and consequences.

To his credit, Noel has been coaching up a storm the last couple of days, first juggling his lines and then putting his team through a battle-heavy practice engineered to raise their compete level. The Jets need more of this and Noel should go even further.

There's no questioning Noel is in a tough spot. His GM has just been signed to a fresh five years and the bulk of his core players are also on long-term deals.

The coach, however, has only this year and next left on his deal, exposing him to be the first in line should change be deemed necessary.

The players, should Noel get a little too pushy for their liking, can tune him out. The GM, who has spent the last two years locking these players up with deals that stretch as long as seven years, likely won't want to hear the skaters are the problem.

Leaving Noel to walk a tightrope and still find a way to get results from this group.

The Jets have looked disengaged for a good chunk of this early season. As one insider put it to me on Thursday, "the give a (bleep) meter is on low for a lot of these guys."

They say all the right things and seem to understand for them to win they must play a much harder and edgier game. But they don't deliver.

It's instructive to know this group hasn't played in a single playoff game together and the franchise hasn't been in the post-season since 2007. Yes, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik have won Stanley Cups elsewhere but 13 of the current Jets have never played in an NHL playoff game.

The Jets have flirted with the post-season the last two years but have faded down the stretch when other teams have raised their game. The checking gets tighter and the battles heavier and the Jets fade. This group hasn't had the starch to handle the tougher going.

And right now, when this team needs to summon its ferocity and play with the urgency required, they have no clue.

This is Noel's greatest challenge. Asking a team to do something it's never done before, to play like a playoff team.

There is enough skill on the Jets roster to regularly win in the NHL. There is talent in place.

The lack of playoff experience in the Jets room is like a disease. It saps them of the strength they need in these times of trouble.

Teams with legitimate playoff aspirations rarely lose more than two games in a row. It's not an accident. One loss? It happens. Two? That's a trend to the NHL elite. They put an end to it by increasing their will. They push one another to win the fight. It works.

In the end, the players and the players alone can make this step. No one can force a player to win a battle for the puck in the corner. That's up to the individual.

But Noel must find the key to unlock this inner beast. And if he can't? Then he really isn't the man for this job. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 C2


Updated on Friday, October 18, 2013 at 7:04 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds videos

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