Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frazzled no more, Noel ready to roll

Liking his team, hopes for growth in off-season

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PITTSBURGH -- Claude Noel, in his words, is no longer scrambled eggs.

Noel looked tanned and relaxed as he met with the media in a downtown hotel lobby on Wednesday. Noel and the entire Jets hockey operations staff is here for the NHL entry draft that begins Friday night with Winnipeg slated to select in the No. 9 slot of the first round.

When last we saw Noel, he was admittedly in a bit of a fog following an extremely hectic season coaching the Jets on the ice and trying to get his operation up and running. There was a seemingly never-ending list of details Noel had to oversee this year and when the Jets were finally eliminated from the post-season race, it hit hard.

"It usually takes me about three weeks. You're scrambled eggs for about two weeks. You're just a mess. You're a mess at home and your wife just looks at you," said Noel. "You're dazed and confused. The bottom falls out of your life. All of a sudden you're not coaching players and you're not at the rink. I took about seven days to just relax and then you start to think, you gather your thoughts and get clarity. You start to identify where you can improve and where we need to improve to make that extra step. We weren't that far off. I was disappointed at the end because I thought we could take a step. And we weren't able to get there."

Noel says the numbers tell a big story about the Jets but there's also a mental factor that can't be statistically quantified.

"Emotionally we were very drained and spent and we couldn't reach the emotional level that was required at the end of the year where other teams had a little bit more... But it's not only the end. It's the culmination of the year. When you look back there were pockets of time where we just didn't do well enough," he said.

The Jets' coach, heading into the second year of a three-year contract, isn't wearing rose-coloured glasses where his team is concerned and realizes there were also some very tangible deficiencies on the ice.

"If you just look at the numbers you can see our goals against clearly has to be better. Both our special teams, penalty kill and power play, have to get better. We have to be way more consistent in those areas. We have to be a better checking team." he said.

Management is not on a fast-track rebuild program but is intent on drafting and developing their own players. So Noel won't have a dramatically different roster to work with this season.

"I believe we're good enough. The growth factor, and those were the seeds I planted with the players, the growth level over the course of the summer is really going to be important. We know now what's expected in Winnipeg. We know what the bar is. We know our A game. We certainly played it at home," said Noel. "Would I like a few more parts? In due time we'll see how that works. But I think we can win with what we have. We have to be better in some areas. There's an attitude we need to conduct better. We need to be better on an everyday basis."

Noel doesn't expect GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to deliver any ready-made solutions at the draft.

"We have some needs in different areas. There's a need for us in the middle of the ice with a big centre. You have players that are unsigned at the moment so you're wondering where that is going to go. But even if you draft a player, is he going to be ready now? He probably has a few years to develop," he said.

Cheveldayoff met with Evander Kane's agent Craig Oster on Wednesday morning and those talks are expected to ramp up and reach a smooth conclusion.

Negotiations between the club and goalie Ondrej Pavelec have not been fruitful with the player seeking a four-year package in the $17-million range while the Jets are offering a three-year deal coming in under $12 million.

"I don't get too involved in that. I trust management. We all know where we're trying to go. If a player's demands are through the roof, then we have to be intelligent. I don't sit there and say, 'We really need this guy.' I've been coaching for a fair amount of time now and the important thing for me is to coach what I have. If a guy we had last year is back, great. I like all the players we had last year and I'd like to have them all back but the mechanics of the NHL gives options for people," said Noel.

He said he met with 10 players at season's end and is working his way through the rest of the group on the phone.

"I dealt mostly with the impact they had this year and how we need to continue growing as we go forward. They certainly weren't confrontational meetings.

"In a general sense I was pretty happy with how all the players played. But there are some areas in our game that have to be improved upon because we're trying to make the playoffs and I sincerely thought we could make the playoffs this year but we weren't good enough in certain areas."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2012 C4

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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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