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Noel can't afford to show signs of weakness

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Claude Noel has been a bit defensive recently, and that's not good. While understandable, it is also counterproductive.

Act like you're guilty and someone just might start to think that's the case, including fans, management but most importantly, the players Noel is charged with leading.

Following Saturday's 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars, Noel was asked about his decision to put Anthony Peluso on the ice immediately after the Jets had knotted the score at 3-3 and erased their third deficit of the game.

Peluso promptly ran Stars blue-liner Alex Goligoski into the boards and picked up a five-minute major. The Stars potted two on the power play and the Jets lost their fourth in five games.

We'll never know the thinking behind Noel's decision, because his response to the question -- "Why not? Because he can't play?" -- was flippant, non-informative and mostly, defensive.

Noel wants his players to be accountable, but he must be as well. Was it a poor decision? Can't say, because we don't know the thought process behind it. But the result was damning. At the very least, a confident coach would explain his thinking behind the decision and then shrug his shoulders over the result.

Taking a pass on the most crucial segment of a game however, doesn't scream accountability. Regardless of intent, putting Peluso on the ice proved a costly mistake.

Noel is part of the inner circle and knows the course Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has set better than anyone. He understands the patience that guides Cheveldayoff's thinking. Noel, and this is easy for me to say, needs to walk and act like a man with a long-term deal. Behaving like a man on a short leash can often become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The talk of Noel having lost his room is false. So is the suggestion he doesn't prepare his team properly. Noel is a solid coach and given the right mix of players can guide a winner. Monday night's 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets was further evidence that when the Jets follow his lead they win. The Jets haven't tuned Noel out and his message is solid, but he has to believe this, or no one else will.

The group Noel is coaching has deep-rooted habits that all too often cost the Jets wins. Breaking players of those habits has proven difficult, and in the end may be an impossible task. They may need to be separated before the Jets can move forward.

However, the stubbornness of this group doesn't relieve Noel of blame for his own coaching miscues. It might make it difficult to accept responsibility when things go wrong, but Noel must rise above the instinct to deflect criticism.

Three seasons of .500 hockey doesn't fall on Noel, but he has had a hand in what the Jets have accomplished and where they've come up short. He was delivered a non-playoff roster, and while Cheveldayoff has improved the outlook of the organization from a talent perspective, the impact on the everyday lineup is still in the infancy stage.

Cheveldayoff has drafted well and the players, starting with Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, are beginning to trickle in.

The future has yet to arrive. Noel has no hand in that and his task is to coach what he has today.

The core, which has been unsuccessful in a handful of seasons together, is mostly unchanged. They must shoulder the bulk of the blame for being intractable and unwilling to change their ways despite clear evidence their ways aren't working.

Noel, from this vantage point at least, has been given the benefit of the doubt in terms of providing his team with the tools to win. They just refuse to use them.

This leaves Noel in a tough spot. But because he has no control over whether he's going to be fired, he needs to coach with confidence and purpose. Coaching from a defensive standpoint will only hasten his demise behind the Jets bench.

The Jets need clear and defined authority at the top of the pyramid and if Noel isn't sure of his footing, or is incapable of presenting an appearance of such assuredness, it will be difficult for others to follow his lead.

A public vote of confidence is useless and not Cheveldayoff's style. He can't tell Noel his job is safe. It just doesn't work that way.

Noel likes to say he lives in a house of mirrors. He needs to have another look.

It's OK to be wrong and better to admit it. It conveys strength and confidence. Avoiding responsibility just makes the errors loom larger. In a leadership position, it provides a poor example and a worse message.

Historically, that's not what this coach has been about. And it's not what Noel or the Jets need right now.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 17, 2013 0

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