The Winnipeg Jets held their year-end locker cleanout media availability on Wednesday. Of the many topics covered, a common theme was that of the team’s long-tenured head coach.
Sitting second league-wide to John Cooper in terms of length of current employment, Paul Maurice has been at the helm in Winnipeg since January 12, 2014, taking over for Claude Noel midway through the 2013-14 season.
Although some Jets fans have quickly turned their frustration with a lack of playoff success on the veteran bench boss, the ‘core players’ within Winnipeg’s system do not share that belief.
“I’ve been on teams where the coach has lost the team,” captain Blake Wheeler said. “The message isn’t being received and the guys roll their eyes every time he says something. I mean, that’s just never happened with Paul. I think his message is still received. I think the guys have just a ton of respect for him because he’s first of all a good person and a good man and he treats us as people. So I think in some respects the way Paul handled our team this year was almost as good as he’s ever been.”
According to Wheeler’s right-hand man, Mark Scheifele, the majority of the players making up the team’s roster feel the same way about their beloved coach.
“We made the playoffs, we swept the Edmonton Oilers and went to the second round of the playoffs,” Scheifele reflected. “Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I have full support in Paul Maurice. But I know I’m not alone there. There’s a lot of guys that love him, he’s a fantastic coach. He’s definitely one of the good ones in this league and he definitely has my full support. What happened against Toronto, that’s learning lessons. That’s coaching. I’m a guy that loves to learn, I’m a guy that loves to improve my game. And I want the coach to push me.”
Another member of the core offensive group is Nikolaj Ehlers. Although many say he has been under-utilized (and rightly so) by Maurice over his time in Winnipeg, the speedy winger agrees that Maurice is certainly the man for the job with the Jets.
“He’s been the coach since I came in,” Ehlers said. “It’s very unusual, even in Europe, to have the same coach for that long. But it just shows what kind of coach and what kind of guy Paul is. I think everyone on the team is very happy with the way he coaches us and, not just the on-ice stuff but the off-ice too. He’s a guy you can go talk to when something’s up. There’s always something with the on-ice stuff that he’s got for you, whether it’s good or bad. That goes for the whole coaching staff as well. They’re great at finding small things that they can help you with, whether they do video or it’s on-ice. They’ll pull you aside. That’s been huge for me to work on the small details of the game. That’s been great.”
Adam Lowry, a 28-year-old seventh-year Jet, has had Paul Maurice calling the shots behind the bench since his arrival. However, this season, Adam’s father Dave joined the crew from the Western League and served as Paul’s assistant. And according to the big centreman, it was an enjoyable experience.
“It was one of those situations where I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to go early on,” he laughed. “It might have been a little awkward the first few days of training camp, just making sure that the interactions weren’t father-son, it was more a coach-player relationship. But it was fun. It was nice to kind of be able to interact with him on a day-to-day basis. Just see the hockey mind. And obviously I’ve known him my whole life so I know him pretty well. But just to see how he interacts, how he thinks the game on a different level as opposed to what you kind of gather at home. It was great to work with him, work on the penalty kill together. It’s always nice to be surrounded by family, especially in this year you didn’t really get to see a whole lot of family. So to get to see him at the rink every day was awesome.”
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And the praise wasn’t just from multi-year Jets forwards either, as first-year veteran Nate Thompson also weighed in on the situation he found himself in when joining the Jets on a one-year deal this season.
“As soon as I got here, there was an open line of communication right away; I knew what to expect,” he said. “I have a great relationship with Paul. It started right from the beginning. I think every guy on the team would say the same thing. He has a true belief in our team and he did from the start. He made that clear right away from day one of training camp. Even through the good times and even when we were struggling, he still had that belief in us. I think every guy knows that. That’s why you’ll see, I think you’re going to see a good response from this group next year. I don’t know if I’ll be here or not, but I can tell you that just from the way Paul sends his message to the guys and letting guys know what to expect from him. He’s done a great job and there is a reason he’s been here for so long.”
With one year left on his contract and reportedly one additional option year following the 2021-22 season, Coach Mo will look to re-tool his offensive crew in an effort to put together a Stanley Cup contending team next year.
“I think we’re already a contender, right?” Wheeler said. “You get to the final eight of 31 teams, you’re in the conversation. The hardest part is formulating a core group of players that you believe are the identity of your team, the guys that can push you over the hump and I think we have that… In a flat-cap world, that’s going to be kind of the challenge this summer, how do you fit the pieces in to kind of push that core over the top. I guess that’s what remains to be seen.”