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This article was published 17/12/2021 (196 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Paul Maurice believed he'd taken the Winnipeg Jets as far as possible. His bosses clearly agreed. And so the veteran coach and the organization officially parted ways Friday in a decision that stunned the NHL city and the rest of the hockey world.
"This is a good team. I'm a good coach. Sometimes when you take over and you're starting at the bottom of a mountain, and you're pushing a rock to the top, you can only get it to a certain place. That's where I feel like I'm at," Maurice said at a morning news conference at Canada Life Centre, just a few hours before his now-former club took on Washington.
"If you allow me some arrogance, I'd say I'm better positioned than anybody to know that they needed a new voice."
Assistant coach Dave Lowry takes over in the interim, and a full-scale search for a new leader will wait until the off-season. He is the father of veteran Winnipeg centre Adam Lowry.
"It’s been a whirlwind. For myself, it came out of the blue," Lowry said just prior to puck drop against the Capitals. "Paul kept this to himself and he did a very good job keeping it to himself. And we do spend a lot of time together and we do communicate more at the rink. A lot of the day is spent in the same room. It was a surprise."
Lowry said he was humbled by a conversation he had with Maurice ahead of his promotion.
"I don’t think this is how anybody would draw it up. The one thing that eases the situation a little bit is that I have Paul’s blessing on this. That was something that was very concerning to me. I wanted to make sure," he said. "He’s fully supportive of the decision moving forward."
Prior to Friday, the Jets were 13-10-5 during the 2021-22 NHL campaign and three points out of a playoff spot under Maurice, who took over in 2014 after Claude Noel was fired. Maurice coached exactly 600 regular-season games with the Jets, going 315-223-62. He led them to the playoffs five times, going as far as the Western Conference Final in the spring of 2018.
Maurice referred to Friday as "a good day" for the Central Division team, which, he pointed out, remained committed to the very end.
"They haven’t quit on me. They’re a good bunch of men. My relationship is strong with all of them, and I’m cheering for them, I am," said the married father of three, who turns 55 in late January. "But when you have a 26-year professional hockey coaching career, you know, they need a new voice. They need somebody to get to that next place. It doesn’t need to be more experienced, necessarily, a more talented guy, it needs to be a different voice, because it’s the right time for it and I know that."
Alternate captain Mark Scheifele was asked whether he agreed it was a positive day in the annals of Jets 2.0 history.
"To be honest, not really," Scheifele said. "Anytime you see something like this happen, whether it's resigning or getting fired, you definitely don't expect it. It's a big shock. Anytime a coaching change happens… you can't help but feel a lot of that onus on yourself as a player and amongst the players. We feel we've been consistently underperforming this year."
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff didn't balk at the suggestion he was going to fire Maurice if he hadn't opted to "resign," which was the term the Jets used.
"I really didn't think that the guys ever stopped working. And I don't think they stopped listening. Did they stop hearing? That's semantics, but I think there is a difference," Cheveldayoff said.
After losing their first two games in regulation to start the year, the Jets went on an impressive run in which they lost only once in 14 games (9-1-4). They had only four wins in their last dozen games heading into Friday, including two consecutive losses.
"I just think its consistency," Lowry said of what changed. "We were talking a month ago, where we are at, everybody was real excited. I think it just shows you how humbling this game is, and how hard it is to win in the National Hockey League. For us, it’s a hard league to win in on a nightly basis, and that is something we will talk about as a group."
The most recent setback was a 4-2 home loss to lowly Buffalo on Tuesday night that was ultimately Maurice's swan song.
"I saw the fire going in a lot of different directions. And that's not a good thing," Cheveldayoff said. "When your fire is kind of burning in the wrong kind of place, that's when you know. He never cheated the game — it was never the work ethic, never the preparation, never those kind of things. But when the fire is going in the wrong direction and it's not making anybody happy, then that's probably not very good."
Maurice was the second-longest serving bench boss in the league, behind only Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
"And he’s won two (Stanley Cups), and you need two. You need two after eight to nine years to get the team to that place, or you need to do what I did. Take them from what I think is bottom-10 situation and move them to a top-10 situation and be proud of that, and I am, I truly am," said Maurice.
"It’s just, this is me having a very unique position to view all things and to understand, with my experience, what I’m seeing. They’re trying, they’re doing what I ask them to do. They need to get to a different level, and they’re capable of it. This team is capable of it, and it’s going to be capable…"
Cheveldayoff said he believes Lowry, who joined the Jets before last year's truncated 56-game schedule, will bring a much-needed fresh approach.
"There's going to be things that Dave's going to do differently. Sometimes getting uncomfortable in a player's routine or life, that's good. I think the players need to get a little comfortable here. Because we're not in a comfortable situation here — this team should be better," Cheveldayoff said.
Adam Lowry insisted he and his teammates were still tuned in, despite the squad's lack of consistency.
"He’s been the only coach I’ve had the pleasure of playing under. I don’t think the message was getting old. I think we were just under-performing," he said. "There are probably some other factors that go into his decision. I don’t think what he was saying was falling on deaf ears or anything like that."
The rest of the coaching staff -- associate coach Jamie Kompon, assistant coach Charlie Huddy and goaltending coach Wade Flaherty -- remains unchanged. Kompon had been away from the club for most of the season while his wife underwent cancer treatment, but rejoined the team Friday which Maurice hinted played a role in the timing of his exit.
"I was on the phone with (Kompon) four hours a day. The man won’t shut up," joked Maurice. "He was here when I had this conversation with Mark and Kevin in the summertime. So this is a long build. I just felt, I felt I’d done well and done my best, and I truly do love these guys. I’m looking at them going, like one of your kids isn’t going, you need to fix something here, and it’s me. I’m not embarrassed by it. I’m tremendously proud of the work that we’ve done here, and I get to stay that way.
"I’m not going to be looking back two months from now going, ‘You knew you should have stepped aside and you didn’t, and that’s wrong.’ I get to at least feel I’ve done it right."
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