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Jets past due extending Maurice’s contract; maybe that’s OK

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/08/2017 (1943 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Flashback:

It’s April 10, a couple of days after the Winnipeg Jets played their last game of another playoff-missing season, and head coach Paul Maurice and GM Kevin Chevaldayoff are doing their season-ending news conference.

The talk quickly turns to the status of contract extension talks for Maurice, who will be in the final year of his deal heading into the 2017-18 season, and both he and Cheveldayoff seem to agree it’s already all but a done deal.

“Paul has my full support,” says Chevaldayoff.

“Every contract I’ve ever done took about 10 minutes,” says Maurice.

Well, we must be in some kind of weird wormhole then, because that 10 minutes has now stretched into over four months, and with just five weeks to go before the team plays its first pre-season game on Sept. 18, Maurice is still a lame-duck head coach heading into the coming NHL season.

So what gives? I ask Jets spokesman Scott Brown.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Paul Maurice, head coach for the Winnipeg Jets

“Actually I haven’t heard anything lately,” Brown replies. “But it’s not a topic I ask about until told.”

Memo to Donald Trump: If you’re really determined to fix all those White House leaks, you could do a lot worse than to simply emulate everything the Winnipeg Jets do.

Now, there are a number of perfectly reasonable and innocent explanations for why 10 minutes has become four months… and counting.

Maybe the two parties really are so close that they’ve simply kicked the whole thing down the road, knowing full-well that they can quickly hammer out the last details when they finally sit down.

Or maybe they haven’t found that 10 minutes yet, what with post-season post-mortems followed by draft preparation followed by free agency and now followed by the traditional time off in August that all NHL front offices take.

Or maybe they have already reached a deal, tucked it into a drawer (without telling their media relations guy) and will announce it sometime closer to the start of the season.

Any and all of that would be perfectly innocent and any and all of those scenarios are distinct possibilities.

But what fun is that?

Look, it’s the dog days of summer, the Bombers have the free spot on the Bingo card this weekend in Hamilton and I don’t know about you, but I’m hankering for a hockey fix.

So how about we explore some other decidedly more interesting alternative theories in a game we’ll call How Come Paul Maurice Hasn’t Signed That Extension Yet?:

Maurice wants a big raise

I explored this topic in a column back in March: the days of NHL head coaches being the most poorly paid employees in the dressing room are long gone.

Mike Babcock’s eight-year, $50-million contract with Toronto floated boats across the league — $6 million a season for Joel Quenneville in Chicago, $5 million a season for Claude Julien in Montreal, $4 million a season for Alain Vigneault in New York and the recently departed Dave Tippett in Arizona.

If Maurice is asking for that kind of cash from the Jets after missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, you could see why it might take Mark Chipman more than 10 minutes to agree to that.

Maurice wants more term than the Jets are willing to give

The standard head coach extension seems to run about three years, and you certainly couldn’t fault Maurice for asking for at least that much, any more than you could fault the Jets for balking.

The Jets are a fiercely loyal organization — to a fault, I’d argue — but even Chipman’s patience runs thin. It’s worth remembering the club reached the end of the line with Claude Noel after he missed the playoffs two years in a row and was well on his way to missing them for a third when he was replaced.

Maurice has now missed the playoffs in back-to-back campaigns and if the Jets owners have any notion of this being a do-or-die season, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t want to be locked into a long-term relationship.

Chipman and co-owner David Thomson didn’t get rich by giving away money.

Maurice believes he needs an elite goalie to succeed

…And doesn’t think Steve Mason (or Connor Hellebuyck, for that matter) fits the bill.

I’ve been hearing rumours for months that Maurice was tired of having his best-laid plans undone by lousy goaltending and he wanted to see what the Jets would have in net before he committed anything beyond 2017-18.

Now, I have no idea whether those rumours are true, but I heard it often enough from enough different sources that it made me wonder if there wasn’t at least some fire producing all that smoke.

Here’s what I do know for sure: Maurice has had horrendous goaltending over his entire coaching career. Through 19 NHL seasons, his stoppers have combined for just a .904 save percentage.

Now, I suppose you could argue that some of that is on Maurice — that his struggles over the years to impose defensive discipline on his teams (which has been his Achilles in Winnipeg) has made his goaltenders worse than they are.

I’m not sure there would be anything wrong with Maurice heading into the season with a little fire roasting his behind.

But still, could you blame the guy if he was a little disappointed the team didn’t pursue the likes of Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury or Scott Darling only to finally settle on Mason, who posted a .908 save percentage in Philly last year?

At the end of the day, whatever is holding up the announcement of a contract extension for Maurice, the larger point is this: I’m not sure there would be anything wrong with Maurice heading into the season with a little fire roasting his behind.

I’ve never understood the whole idea that having a head coach in the final year of his contract somehow delivers a toxic message that creates all the ingredients for a mutiny in a pro sports locker room.

If your control over your players is only as good as the term remaining on your contract, I’d argue that right there is reason enough not to give you an extension.

In every other aspect of pro sports, there is universal agreement that competition brings out the best in people, whether it be individual players being challenged for a job in training camp or the team rivalries that push entire franchises to get better.

And yet, when it comes to head coaches, we’re expected to believe they are these delicate flowers who will immediately wilt if they’re asked to show the people who pay them a little more before signing off on more years and more millions.

Missing the post-season in each of the last two seasons — and five of six since the franchise returned to Winnipeg — the entire organization is under pressure like never before to perform in 2017-18 and I don’t see why Maurice should be any different.

Something else worth remembering is that Mike O’Shea, the last lame-duck head coach in this town, led the Blue Bombers to their first playoff appearance in six seasons last fall before he was rewarded with a three-year extension.

A little pressure can work wonders, in other words.

Yes, the Jets are still young, but the window in which this market can afford all this talent is also rapidly closing. Quite a few key players are going to be due huge raises soon — beginning with Jacob Trouba — and the time to win is now, while all that talent is still on affordable contracts.

Maurice has been waiting more than four months now for something he says normally takes 10 minutes.

But the sports fans in this town have been waiting a lot longer than that for something else. A winner.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press files Winnipeg Jets' head coach Paul Maurice gives instructions to Blake Wheeler (26) while playing against the Minnesota Wild during third period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 19, 2017.
Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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