The Winnipeg Jets and their myriad of maladies are now Paul Maurice's nut to crack.
The new coach is looking at frustrating inconsistency, a confidence crisis, defensive issues, leadership concerns, an iffy power play and mediocre goaltending -- among other warts.
Mired in a five-game nosedive that has twice seen them booed off home ice this week, the Jets fired head coach Claude Noel and assistant Perry Pearn Sunday morning and handed the gig to 46-year-old Maurice, a coaching veteran who compiled a 460-457-167 record in stints behind the benches of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Hartford Whalers.
'It really wasn't a single thing... It just became apparent over the last little while here that things were not trending in the right direction' -- Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff
Maurice, who was working with TSN on their hockey panel, was last a coach with Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL in 2012-13.
"It really wasn't a single thing," said Jets' GM Kevin Cheveldayoff Sunday of the decision to make a coaching change. "Over the course of a period of time here there was a certain level of expectations that we had collectively for our group of players and individually for players. It just became apparent over the last little while here that things were not trending in the right direction and we were going to have to do something to try and move things back into the fashion of moving forward.
"Certainly (the two home losses) was a contributing factor in the sense that I think there was a lot of players that even singled themselves out for different things. But it's not just the last two games. It's the consistency factor. We always ask ourselves internally, be it Claude and myself whenever we chatted... 'Why .500? Why one ahead, one back? Two ahead, two back?' It was obviously something we've talked about tremendously and it will continue to be talked about until we can get it going in the right direction.
"Will further changes have to be made over the course of time? Sure. It's just now trying to figure out what is going to be the best direction for those changes moving forward."
At 19-23-5 the Jets are 12th in the NHL's Western Conference, 10 points out of a playoff spot and just eight points out of the basement. Only five teams -- Calgary, Edmonton, Florida, the New York Islanders and Buffalo -- have fewer points than the Jets.
After cranking out three straight wins immediately after Christmas the Jets have now dropped five in a row, surrendered 24 goals over that stretch and -- more alarmingly -- looked like a team devoid of any confidence over the last two games.
"We just fell off the rails," said Blake Wheeler. "We came back in the new year and things were looking good with three straight wins. I don't know, to be honest with you. It's just kind of been one thing after another that has been leading up to this point. It's been this year, it's been last year, it's been the year before... it's kind of been the same thing over and over again. You take two steps forward and then two steps back all the time."
Cheveldayoff first reached out to Maurice after the loss to Tampa last Tuesday to gauge his interest and then, after meeting with ownership following Saturday's loss to Columbus, decided to pull the trigger.
The Jets' GM met with Noel and Pearn Sunday morning to inform them of the decision, then spoke to the players. Maurice was to arrive Sunday night and be on the ice with the Jets today in advance of their game against the Phoenix Coyotes. Assistants Charlie Huddy, Pascal Vincent and Wade Flaherty all remain on staff to help Maurice -- who has simply a handshake agreement with Cheveldayoff -- during the transition.
"Claude did a lot. He's a special person, a very caring person who worked extremely hard," Cheveldayoff said. "The fact that I'm standing here is not about what he didn't do. Moving forward, Paul is someone who has good experience at the National Hockey League level. He's coached a lot of different types of teams, he's had experience with both veteran players and young players and has had success with both. He's experienced both sides of things. He's experienced success, he's experienced failure. He's battle-hardened. He's energetic and chomping at the bit to get back in the National Hockey League. Someone with a lot of experience will be invaluable to us as we continue to evaluate what we have here and what changes in the future might be necessary."
If that sounds like a shot through the dressing room, it most certainly is. This is a franchise, after all, that has made one playoff appearance since its birth in 1999 and has already worked through seven head coaches, Noel included.
"Obviously it does send a message that this is an evaluation situation as well, too," said Cheveldayoff. "We believe we are underachieving. Now it's up to the players, in some respect, to show what they're all about, but at the end of the day we have to take a long hard look at what other steps there are to move forward."
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