Can a good coach save this Winnipeg Jets team?

“Houston, we have a problem” …..

An iconic idiom born from the “successful failure” of the Apollo 13 moon mission back in 1970. To be historically accurate, the exact quote was actually, “Houston, we’ve had a problem” – but disasters in the past tense do not fit well with Hollywood narratives.   

Regardless, the ill-fated exploration into space popularized another turn of phrase. When disaster struck, NASA had 2 choices: try to turn the aircraft around mid-trajectory, or continue around the moon circa the original flight path. NASA chose the latter, as they deemed Apollo 13 was “past the point of no return”. They were correct, and the crew of the Apollo 13 landed safely on Earth and spawned an underrated Ron Howard movie.

On our most recent podcast, my co-host, and gregarious raconteur, was persuasive that a “blow-up” of the Winnipeg Jets was not a viable option. “Blow-up” is a fitting, and rather ominous choice of phrasing given my metaphor here, but to paraphrase his comments – we are past the point of no return with the Winnipeg Jets 2.0.

So, the question becomes, is there a way to slingshot around the moon, and land this aircraft, or do we just need to abort the mission. I advocated for the ‘blow-up’ here: https://thefhn.net/postmortem-of-the-winnipeg-jets-er-inspired.

The answer will depend on Mission Control, or in this case, Jets management. As open as I am to a change in General Manager, realistically, I do not believe that this will happen. What is realistic? Primarily, it will depend on who will be the next coach of the Winnipeg Jets.

The list of free agent coaches is long and well known. Claude Julien, Rick Tocchet, Kirk Muller, Mark Morrison and even Bruce Boudreau (the Vancouver situation appears fluid) to name a few. Honestly, the Jets just need someone to implement two things:

1. An updated ‘system’ and a consistent adherence thereof; and

2. A culture of accountability.

In short, we are easy to play against, inconsistent, and we don’t hold players accountable for poor play. You don’t have to look too far in the past to see how coaching can improve most, or all of the above. St. Louis in Montreal, Boudreau in Vancouver, Darryl Sutter in Calgary, Jay Woodcroft in Edmonton….the list goes on and on. I have advocated for a tabula rasa in Jets Nation – but perhaps a coaching change is the realistic response (to start).

There are plenty of stats, advanced and otherwise, as to why the Jets have been poorly coached. Anemic Penalty Kill, defensive turnovers (Jets are 3rd worst this year), and high-danger chances (again, amongst the worst) illustrate the issue. But I will use a non-statistical comparison to highlight what MAY be possible with a coaching change.

The Boston Celtics are my favourite basketball team. They have been a talented group, making a Conference Finals in 2019, but ultimately falling short of expectations. Brad Stevens, their respected but beleaguered coach resigned (shades of Maurice) at the start of 2022, as many believed he had taken the Celtics as far as they could go. In steps Ime Udoka.

Let me know if this sounds familiar…the Celtics are a skilled team (on paper) with a nucleus of young and veteran players that have been together for years. They underachieved as a unit, and rumours surfaced that the locker room was splintered. Udoka, by all accounts, arrived with 2 messages: defensive system awareness and accountability. What has happened? The Celtics are the Vegas front-runners to make the Finals. Their star forward has bought into defense (looking at you 55); the young guns have been given larger roles on the team (ahem); and their veteran point guard has accepted a less prominent role on offence (Wheeler). Understandably, this is a somewhat an apples to oranges comparison, but the similarities are eerie. This Celtics team was left for dead, and now they just swept the New Jersey Nets (the Colorado Avalanche of the NBA).

I have championed that the Winnipeg Jets are past the point of return, but perhaps I didn’t appreciate the impact a change in coaching could bring about. It’s not trigonometry so who knows, with a new coach, maybe the sky’s the limit.  

Post-Script: The Jets played arguably their best game of the season against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Gaps were tight, break-outs crisp, and the forecheck was aggressive. One game does not a season make, but it is evidence that this crew, playing properly, can compete with the best in the league.

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