Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maurice unsure on timetable for building winner

But says he saw more growth as season came to a conclusion

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IF he's is going to continue as the head coach, there's an important question Winnipeg Jets fans are likely to have of Paul Maurice.

How long is it going to take to transform the also-ran Jets -- playoff non-qualifiers for three straight seasons in Winnipeg and as a franchise, seven years in a row -- into a winning outfit?

If patience is not your thing, there's a chance you won't like his answer.

"I don't know the answer to that, to be honest with you," Maurice said Sunday, taking a break from his exit meetings with the players, their season concluded at 84 points, 37-35-10.

That did not stop him from giving two further minutes of thought on the matter.

"Kind of starting, really in some ways, from the ground floor," he said. "We'll start with the body, the physical changes we need to make, the fitness level we need to get to. We wouldn't be able to get to that in one summer. It takes a couple of years in my experience and I've been through that twice. This team is probably further ahead than one of the situations; it takes about two years. And it's organizational. It's your team but also your American League team and in the end, then you're just worried about your draft picks and you see how long it takes them to turn pro.

"The style of play? The understanding of what we want to do, the foundation of it shouldn't take too, too long but that doesn't mean you're good at it yet. And Boston is a really good example of that. They won a Cup before they got to the level... the game they're playing now is as advanced as I've seen them play. They're a better team now, I think, than when they won.

"So it'll take a while. The key is how long can you stay right on the direction, right? There's always that you fall off, the injuries, all those other things that happen to your team, pieces that you thought fit but maybe didn't fit exactly the way you want. How long it takes your young players to (get to) that level of being men. I think we made some decent strides in our defensive zone but I think we've got a long way to go there. The last week-and-a-half was when we finally started to get to our offensive zone, we got on the puck better than we had all year. So it'll take a while."

The other major issue for Maurice to address after the conclusion of games was about the team's worst month of the season -- March.

The Jets won in Nashville on March 1, pulling into a points tie with the eighth-place Dallas Stars, but followed that game with a six-game losing streak (0-3-3) and went on to lose 11 games (4-7-4) in the month to fall out of touch with post-season hope.

"The game changed," Maurice responded. "That was a big piece of it. It gets to a more physical, more grinding, tighter game. So we're coming away down a goal instead of up a goal. It's not like we went from winning 5-2 to losing 5-2. It was that little switch and some of that was the way the game changes."

He also said the young team was not deep enough to fully cope with injuries, which began with the loss of effective rookie centre Mark Scheifele and escalated to a half-dozen regulars.

There was a distinct break in Maurice's and the team's success. After that win in Nashville, including that game, the new coach was 11-3-1. He went 7-9-4 the rest of the way.

"In specifics, I pushed them real hard after the Nashville game in two practices," Maurice said. "I can remember walking off the ice thinking, 'That's the way we're supposed to practise and I'm just not sure we were ready to do that yet.' But it needed to happen. I wouldn't change it going back. I wouldn't change the end of this year.

"I know making the playoffs is the prize but it's not. At the end of it, for me, we got far more out of the last month-and-a-half of the season than we did in the first month-and-a-half. I learned more about the players, got an opportunity to draw some lines and explain some things and hold players to certain things that you couldn't early on. And we'll get more value going forward from the end of this hockey season than when I came in."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2014 C3

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