“Coaching is easy. Winning is the hard part” – Elgin Baylor
By all accounts, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is an affable and sanguine fella. His players seem to genuinely like him, and the media adores him. That’s why I derive little pleasure in saying – Paul Maurice needs to be fired.
Maurice is the 6th winningest coach in NHL history. He also holds the dubious record of most loses by a NHL coach…..ever. I guess it’s good to be the best at something? In the immortal words of Ricky Bobby, “if you’re not first, you’re last.”
Having two first names is not all these two have in common. They also both operate within outdated modalities. I believe ‘old school’ is the term. Only Maurice has very little ‘shake’ left in his ‘bake’.
After stints in Hartford, Carolina, Toronto and TSN (for our American readers, TSN is Canadian ESPN – with much more curling), Maurice landed in Winnipeg. His record with the team is an unassuming 302-213 (.578%). OK, but not great, much like the Airport Lounge Podcast.
You might be asking, “if Maurice is a good dude, and the Jets finished in the top 8 this year, why the urgency to send him packing?” Good question. My reasons are threefold:
1. Stats don’t lie. By every meaningful statistical measure this year (Expected Goals (24th), Corsi (21st) and Fenwick (22nd)) the Jets were at the bottom of the league. We survived by excelling at 2 things: Shooting percentage (11th) and ‘save percentage above expected’ (2nd). Both these benchmarks are almost completely bereft from coaching. Consider this: the Jets had 4 players in the top 50 scorers this year – which lead the NHL (tied with Boston and Colorado), and arguably have the best goalie in the league…..yet we rank in the bottom 3rd of every major statistical category? How is that possible? Paul Maurice, that’s how.
We also ranked last in nearly every defensive utility measurement. For example: zone entries by defenseman (last), zone exits by defenseman (last), and the number of times Charlie Huddy looked completely befuddled (I may have made that last one up). Point is, we were not good on paper, and watching the games confirms this. We got outplayed ALOT this year. We lost the majority of the scoring chance battles, and won games through great goaltending and elite shooting. Typically, these are not ‘sticky’ attributes.
2. Development of Yewts (that’s for you ‘My Cousin Vinny’ aficionados) – Paul Maurice likes and plays old guys to the detriment of developing (and actually coaching) young players. Sami Niku, Ville Heinola, Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine, Logan Stanley, Nik Ehlers (to name just a few) are giving the Amen sign right now.
Here are some guys we played extensively on defense this year: Derek Forbort, Tucker Poolman, Jordie Benn, and Nathan Beaulieu. What do these players have in common? They all lack in an important advanced statistical metric – they are not good at hockey. Ville Heinola on the other hand, is good at hockey. Did he need some time to get acclimated to the NHL? Of course, but that is what the regular season is for. Under the right tutelage – Heinola is a significant upgrade on the blueline, but Maurice prefers to play guys with cool names and cool beards. Hell, Beaulieu stayed in the lineup with a broken hand over playing Heinola.
Nik Ehlers was our best forward this year, and is my favourite Winnipeg Jet (yes, 45 year-old men can still have favourite players). His Expected Goal Percentage was first amongst Jets forwards, but Maurice afforded him the 6th amount of ice time per game of this group. He was also relegated to the second unit of the power play (where he crushed it). Sometimes hockey is simple….play your best players. Blake Wheeler on the other hand was just bad this year (statistically and visually). He is on the wrong side of the age apex, but played on the first line despite declining faster than Eddie the Eagle.
Questions we must ask ourselves: Why were Nate Thompson and Treavor Lewis playing all year? Why did Patrick Laine basically demand a trade out of Winnipeg? Why did Dustin Bufgilien and Jacob Trouba leave? Cue The Steve Miller Band: “Some people call me Maurice!”
Logan Stanley, now considered an asset on the blue line – only got a spot in the lineup by accident (injury). Now there is real debate online as to whether we protect him or Dylan DeMelo for the Entry Draft (this is a silly argument – one we will touch upon in our next podcast).
The Montreal Canadiens are a good test case that playing youth can work. It doesn’t mean playing and developing your young players results in a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but in the case of the Winnipeg Jets, it would have helped.
3. Systems – A hockey team’s ‘system’ is often harder to figure out than a Don Cherry monologue – sometimes it’s coherent- sometimes it’s not. What we do know is that special teams prowess is a direct product of a coaching system and/or philosophy. While we’ve had a serviceable power play over the past 6 years (thanks in part to very gifted scorers (RIP Patrick Laine)), our penalty kill has been subpar (bottom 3rd again) consistently. Adjustments, or lack thereof, to special teams struggles are a direct product of coaching. Are we hard to play against? Do we play fast or slow? Ask any Winnipeg Jets fan and they’d be hard pressed to describe the team’s identity.
Bonus reason: Paul Maurice is currently the second longest tenured coach in the NHL. The longest? Jon Cooper. Remind me again, what have the Tampa Bay Lightening done lately? 8 years as a professional coach is a lifetime. NO recent coach has coached this long without a trip to the finals. Theo Epstein has said that sports leadership grows stale after 5 years….well, we’ve reached rotating 7-11 hot dog stale here in Winnipeg (side note: please don’t buy food from 7-11’s meat aquarium).
The Winnipeg Jets have a 2-3 year window here to capitalize on its generational goaltending (thank you Hellebuyck); it’s aging forward core (no thank you Blake Wheeler); and it’s rabid fans (thank you again, Winnipeg). This team has gone as far as it can go under the current leadership. Paul Maurice has the ear of our veterans, and can give ‘Rudy’ like inspirational speeches with the best of ’em, but from a tactical hockey perspective, he leaves much to be desired.
I don’t expect the Winnipeg Jets to win outright from here on out, but I do think our mantra should be less “we had a pretty good year” and more “if you’re not first, you’re last”. For that, we need Paul Maurice to be fired.
“Coaching is easy. Winning is the hard part” – Elgin Baylor