Good morning, folks.
Let me first say that I don’t have a strong opinion, one way or the other, on whether or not Paul Maurice should be fired.
My mind could change by Monday.
It’s a big sports weekend in River City.
For the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a trip to the Grey Cup is on the line.
For the Winnipeg Jets head coach, his job could be — in fact, should be — on the line.
Let’s start with the Blue and Gold:
The local CFL team is hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Sunday’s West Final at IG Field.
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested the Bombers might be hard-pressed to crank it back up for the division championship, having not played a meaningful game since clinching top spot in the West with a convincing 45-0 win over the B.C. Lions back in late October.
I no longer think that will be an issue. Head coach Mike O’Shea did a good job down the stretch getting his starters the appropriate number of snaps and he’s also done a nice job getting his team the right amount of practice time during the first-round bye. Also, Andrew Harris returned to the field on Wednesday and, presuming he plays on Sunday, that will provide a significant spark to a team that has looked determined to repeat as champs since the first snap of the season.
Oh, and then there’s this: Cody Fajardo is worse than I thought. I’m still not sure how the Calgary Stampeders intercepted the Riders QB four times and lost in the West semifinal — kickers make coaches go grey.
But even by some strange occurrence the Bombers lose on Sunday, the chances of O’Shea being fired as a result of a loss are none and none.
I’m not sure the same can be said of Maurice.
While there seemingly is far less at stake at the downtown shinny rink — it is, after all, only Games 23 and 24 on the 82-game schedule — tonight’s game versus the New Jersey Devils and Sunday night’s game versus the Toronto Maple Leafs look like a pivotal point in the Jets’ season.
Winnipeg heads into the weekend with a 10-8-4 record and below the playoff line in the Western Conference. A couple of victories would give them a 12-8-4 mark and perhaps signify the Jets are moving towards the type of team many — including yours truly — projected they would be this season. A pair of losses would leave them at 10-10-4 and the rumblings for the head coach’s head, which are being heard around town, will turn into a full-out call for action.
Frankly, I’m not even sure a split in the two games will be acceptable at this point. Middling results have brought us to this point.
The Jets have no excuses this weekend. Their opponent tonight played Thursday night in Minnesota versus the Wild and the Leafs will do the same Saturday night, ahead of their game Sunday night here versus the Jets.
Maurice’s squad gets two chances to play two teams, both on the tail end of a back-to-back.
This, after having given his troops two days off this week to rest up after their loss to Arizona on Monday. They also had last Sunday off.
Because you know, they had played eight games in eight different time zones.
Um yeah… and?
I mean, come on. Just once — Vancouver to Winnipeg — was it more than one time zone difference and they had two days off on that occasion. As I told Mike McIntyre during our Jetcetera podcast this week, this time-zone excuse is bunk.
I’ve flown coach overnight to Europe a few times, and then walked the streets of London all day before hitting the hay.
OK, it’s not playing an NHL game, but I’m a few decades older than these young lads.
And I’m betting not one of them had to pull their luggage behind them as they caught a couple of trains and then walked several blocks just to get to the hotel.
There’s an old saying: behind every failed leader is an excuse.
Having said that, the blame for the Jets' current situation hardly lies at the skates of Maurice alone. Under his guidance, this team has at times over-achieved and under-achieved. Like every coach — heck, like all of us — he has his strengths and his weaknesses.
So, while I don’t have a strong opinion on whether or not PoMo should be canned, I will insist there’s a handful of players who can claim responsibility for his firing if that happens: most notably Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers — and, to a lesser degree Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Blake Wheeler.
Other than Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois, the vaunted "best forward group in the NHL" has been nearly non-existent this season.
Ehlers, now in his seventh season, continues to make the same selfish plays in the neutral zone and offensive zone that he’s made his entire career and while he may be pouting that he's been demoted to the third line, he’s done zilch to warrant playing up in the lineup. I mean, how many times can you make a wild shot over the net that results in an opposition odd-man rush?
And what’s up with Scheifele? This is a guy who needs to step up and try to carry this team on his shoulders. If he has aspirations of being named to Canada’s team for the Beijing Olympics, he’s dreaming. The way he’s playing, he’ll be lucky if they let him watch the Games. He’s not even the best Canadian centre on his own team right now.
To a man, Jets players have gone out of their way over the years to say how much they respect Paul Maurice. Time for them to walk the talk.
Otherwise — fair or not — it may force the GM to have the coach walk... the plank, that is.
Enjoy the weekend, folks. And as always, you can reach me by replying to this mailing or by sending me an email here.