Despite a talented roster led by #1 center Mark Scheifele (31 points in 33 games), team captain Blake Wheeler (26 points), rookie phenom Patrik Laine (19 goals) and big blue liner Dustin Byfuglien (22 points), the Winnipeg Jets have a disappointing 16 – 17 – 3 record and are three points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It’s perhaps not surprising that reports began circulating suggesting the job of veteran bench boss Paul Maurice could be in jeopardy, but as Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press writes, there is simply nothing to those rumors.
Wiecek points out that the Jets ownership is “loyal to a fault,” and references former head coach Claude Noel as an example of that loyalty. Noel served as the team’s head coach for their first two-and-a-half seasons in Manitoba but mustered just a record of 80 – 79 – 18 and failed to lead the Jets to the postseason before being dismissed during the 2013-14 season. Wiecek believes the team kept Noel around “long after it had become readily apparent to everyone else that an AHL coach was all Noel was ever going to be.”
The scribe also suggests the team still believes Maurice is the right coach to turn “a room full of young talent and inexperience into the kind of club that can compete night in and night out with the best in the league.”
Finally, in response to the belief the Jets have under-performed, Wiecek takes the position that the team has performed exactly as should be expected; like a young team with plenty of peaks and valleys.
It should also be noted that the Jets play in a tough division, one that sent five teams to the postseason a year ago. While the Central may not be as strong this season as the Metro Division, an argument can certainly be made that they could easily boast five playoff squads again this spring
Elsewhere in the West:
- Jeremy Rutherford hosted his weekly chat with readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently and tackled several issues related to the Blues. Naturally much of the talk was about how the Blues can improve their roster and while there may not have been much in the way of concrete trade rumors, Rutherford acknowledged the team desperately wants to add both speed and a proven top-six center ahead of the deadline. Of course the one asset St. Louis might be able to move to address their needs is defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is set to hit unrestricted free agency next summer. Though as appealing as Shattenkirk might be to other teams, his value is limited unless any team looking to acquire the puck-moving blue liner has an indication they might be able to extend the pending free agent. It’s also not certain the Blues will be too interested in dealing Shattenkirk if they are in possession of a playoff berth at the deadline. Last season, GM Doug Armstrong held onto David Backes and Troy Brouwer, both of whom would leave the team after the season and demonstrating the veteran GM will only sell off an expiring asset if it improves his chances to win today.
- The Calgary Flames surprised some when they went off the board to select center Mark Jankowski in the first round of the 2012 draft. While most teams weren’t sold on Jankowski, then-Flames GM Jay Feaster called him the best player in the draft and compared the pivot to former Calgary star Joe Nieuwendyk. It took four years but Jankowski finally made his NHL debut earlier this season, and as Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald reports, he is looking forward to working his way back into the league and earning a permanent position. But first, Jankowski, in his first full season as a pro, knows he has to dominate at the AHL level: “Obviously it was a good experience to get up there to see what it’s all about and play my first game, to see what type of game it is,” he said. “It’s a lot faster and guys are bigger and stronger. They’re all just a bit more skilled. Coming back to Stockton, it’s huge motivation for me to see what it’s like if I want to be there full-time.I have to come down here and dominate and play my game.”