Act 2 has plenty of drama for Jets coach Paul Maurice

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The guy behind the bench, the one with the prominent jaw and electric eyes, forgive him if he seems a little fragmented or adopts a bit of a split personality this season. That’s going to happen when multiple masters have different expectations.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/09/2015 (2633 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The guy behind the bench, the one with the prominent jaw and electric eyes, forgive him if he seems a little fragmented or adopts a bit of a split personality this season. That’s going to happen when multiple masters have different expectations.

Head coach Paul Maurice set the bar high in his first full season coaching the Winnipeg Jets. He turned a group of chronic underachievers into a playoff team.

Following it up it won’t be easy. This will be a complex season for the coach where he will need to manage the priorities set out for him by management against the insistence of the team’s leaders that every shift in every game be about victory.

Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press Coach Paul Maurice reviews the season at the MTS Centre this afternoon.

The veterans on this team will want to establish a winning environment. They’ll want Maurice to shorten the bench and use the players most ready to succeed in the NHL. They’ll have little patience for the education of rookies.

At the same time, management is looking down the road and appears to have set up this season up as one of development.

Maurice is the conductor and his job is to please the band, the paying audience and the guys who own the theatre. Some years, such as last, it’s synergistic and everyone has a common goal. It was make the playoffs or bust and seemingly all of Winnipeg was in on the fun.

This year, however, is different and Maurice must follow up his first act as head coach by mixing in a little juggling.

“I’m 29, so I could care less about the draft-and-develop model. I want to win right now,” were Jets captain Andrew Ladd’s words last spring and it’s hard to imagine that stance has softened.

Ladd isn’t alone. The veteran core that also includes Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Mark Stuart are all at the stage of their careers where winning is paramount. They would like management to push. To spend to the cap and add veteran pieces that are plug and play. And in the uber-competitive Western Conference where the race to the playoffs begins in October and never relents, they’ll want Maurice to coach for wins and not lessons.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff let a number of veterans walk in free agency this summer and has left holes open in the lineup for young players. The playoffs last season were fun, but Cheveldayoff has recognized flaws in his lineup which he intends to fill with prospects.

We’ll never hear Cheveldayoff admit he’s willing to take a step sideways or even backward this year in order to promote prospects that will make the Jets deeper and stronger in a few years.

But the simple fact of the matter is the Jets are a draft-and-develop team and by design they try to solve roster issues from within. Outsourcing is a last resort.

The team Cheveldayoff assembled for last year’s run to the post-season got bounced in four straight. There was little evidence to suggest the last-minute veterans he added would be able to grow and help this team find its way deeper into the playoffs. Cheveldayoff’s bet is the likes of Nik Ehlers, Andrew Copp, Josh Morrissey and Nic Petan will make the Jets better in a season or two than Jiri Tlusty, Lee Stempniak and Jim Slater.

Which puts Maurice into a precarious spot. He’s got to find a way to keep Ladd and company onside while the kids go through some growing pains. Ladd will be key in the delivery of the sales pitch. He’s the culture carrier in the locker room and if he sees the benefit in what the suits are trying to accomplish, he can bring his teammates along. If he gets sour on the idea, this season could prove to be interminable.

All of this makes for odd timing where Ladd’s protracted contract negotiations are concerned. One would think the Jets would want Ladd tied up and happy as they embark on this next phase of their development. But that’s not the case as of this date.

It’ll be a bit of a balancing act for Maurice. He’ll need to demand a high level of accountability from his veterans while playing den mother to the new recruits.

The final results of last season were pleasing to Maurice and the organization. But retaining balance within the dressing room this season, and not losing the recent strides made in Jets culture, will represent an even better job of coaching.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

History

Updated on Wednesday, September 16, 2015 9:14 AM CDT: Corrects typo

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