October 23, 2019

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Opinion

Maurice's best medicine is to massage the funny bone

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Jets head coach Paul Maurice is brightening up a dark pre-season with his quick wit.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Jets head coach Paul Maurice is brightening up a dark pre-season with his quick wit.

Hey, did you hear the one about the hockey team missing three of its best players? A real knee-slapper, I tell ya!

The current state of the Winnipeg Jets would appear to be no laughing matter, with Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor all out of the picture and the start of the NHL regular season just around the corner.

But all these dark clouds apparently haven’t sullied the view of head coach Paul Maurice, who seems to be turning that frown upside down and trying out a new standup routine every time he faces the media lately.

Take Friday’s scrum, for example, where there was plenty of buzz about a few Instagram photos that showed Byfuglien sipping a drink on the patio at Earls St. Vital and hanging with a few fans — including one who said the veteran defenceman denied he was planning to retire and will be playing this season.

"He’s eating food? That bastard!" Maurice said when grilled about what it all could mean. After revealing he met face to face with Byfuglien on Thursday and had a "wonderful" conversation, Maurice was quizzed about where it had occurred.

"We did it outside your house in my car. You missed it," he told the news snoop.

Despite all the fires seemingly burning around the team, Maurice is making a concerted effort to keep everything as light and loose as possible, no doubt hoping his "What,? Me Worry?" approach trickles down to his troops.

Cue the rim shot.

There was more, including Maurice playing dumb and asking journalists to rattle off a list of all the social media platforms out there, then joking that "the young single guy in the back doesn’t want to say Tinder," after several others were mentioned.

It was a similar case of the chuckles earlier this week, when Laine’s controversial interview with a Finnish journalist was making headlines on the homefront. The restricted free-agent winger had some biting comments about the way he was being used by Maurice, specifically not spending much time on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.

A few hours later, after winger Andrew Copp had a two-point night against the Minnesota Wild in a pre-season game, Maurice was asked if the winger could take on a bigger offensive role this season.

"Did he say that he’d score more if he played with our best players?" Maurice fired back, a knowing smirk on his face. "Hey, Copper wants that job, I can guarantee you that. That is a fact."

Ba dum tss.

No doubt, some fans see this as an unnecessary cheap shot towards Laine, but I would suggest this is a case of Maurice knowing his audience. He wouldn’t have said it if he thought Laine couldn’t handle it, and considering the coach flew to Finland this summer for some one-on-one face time with his young star, I suspect he has a good idea of how it would be received.

"What’s that quote about rough seas making a good sailor? Something like that. But I haven’t felt it in the room. It’s been good, guys are working their asses off. Players got a little bit of turbulence, maybe, outside the jet. But inside the jet, it’s good." – Jets head coach Paul Maurice

Which brings me to a bigger point. We all know Maurice is naturally a pretty funny guy, and he’s also one of the best communicators in the game. That’s why this whole comedy routine is more than just him trying out some material for a future guest stint at Rumor’s.

Despite all the fires seemingly burning around the team, Maurice is making a concerted effort to keep everything as light and loose as possible, no doubt hoping his "What,? Me Worry?" approach trickles down to his troops.

It started on the first day of training camp, when Maurice had a fresh take on his eye-raising statement about "ruffled feathers" on the team after a disappointing end to the season in the spring. He knew that was going to be an early storyline, and he quickly turned it on its head in a humorous way.

"You know sometimes when your analogies aren’t very good? But in my head, it was still a good one. So I’m picturing this bird with a couple little feathers out, and you just kind of slide your hand and they’re gone. You’re thinking more pterodactyl. I was thinking more sparrow at the time," Maurice said.

That theme continued earlier this week, as Maurice downplayed the effect of all these distractions in training camp.

"What’s that quote about rough seas making a good sailor? Something like that. But I haven’t felt it in the room. It’s been good, guys are working their asses off. Players got a little bit of turbulence, maybe, outside the jet. But inside the jet, it’s good," he said.

That was followed by another gem: "If you get your ugly out early, you’ll be pretty good-looking by the end."

Maybe laughter really is the best medicine. There’s no doubt the Jets, and their fragile fans, could use a good dose of something positive right now.

Maybe laughter really is the best medicine. There’s no doubt the Jets, and their fragile fans, could use a good dose of something positive right now. Maurice is taking a grin-and-bear-it approach, repeatedly saying he’s been thrilled by the work ethic and focus of the players who are in training camp.

I believe Maurice begins this year with a seat that is at least lukewarm, if not downright hot. As the second most-tenured coach in the NHL, you’d think his time with this group is running out, especially after they took a big step backwards last season. At some point, it’s only natural the message grows stale and a new voice is needed.

Now, with an all-important new campaign set to begin, the Jets already seem to be in big trouble, with many pundits already writing them off. And yet, Maurice hasn’t missed a beat, putting on a master class in crisis management and setting a positive tone on a daily basis as the face of the team.

Whether that will ultimately translate into on-ice success remains to be seen, and Maurice seemed to recognize that all this talk is, ultimately, rather cheap.

"None of it matters. Because when we drop the puck in New York, whether I like camp or not, the end result’s going to decide whether I was right or wrong," he said earlier this week.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Maurice seems determined to do it with a smile on his face and his next joke at the ready. And while there’s no chance he’s going to quit his day job, he might just have a career in comedy waiting for him once this coaching gig is over.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Friday, September 20, 2019 at 8:15 PM CDT: Updates story

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