Heading into Sunday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, the Winnipeg Jets are last in the Central Division with a 7-6-2 record, with 2 regulation wins in their last 12 games. Given their struggles, people have been pointing fingers, and most of them are pointed at head coach Claude Noel.
The impression that Noel could be on the heat seat is strengthened by the fact that he was only given a one-year extension last summer. In addition, NHL coaches tend to be the first casualty when a team struggles and requires a shake-up. Peter Laviolette and Kevin Dineen have already been fired by their respective clubs this season, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Florida Panthers, so it is safe to say it is late enough into the season for Noel to be fired.
The Jets are tied for the 2nd lowest scoring team in the Western Conference, and have the 2nd worst power play in the league. Given the talent their roster has, the team should not be underachieving to such an extent, and the root of their problems may lead back to Claude Noel.
History states that a new head coach can have an enormous positive effect on young teams such as the Winnipeg Jets. Bruce Boudreau helped a struggling Washington Capitals team in 2007-08 and went 37-17-7. Dan Bylsma took over for the Pittsburgh Penguins‘ final 25 games of 2008-09, went 18-3-4 and took the Pens to the Stanley Cup. Ken Hitchcock grabbed control of the St. Louis Blues‘ reins in 2011-12 and went 43-15-11. Could the same thing happen with the struggling Jets?
Claude Noel’s troubles don’t only involve his mediocre record with the Jets. Noel reportedly clashed with prospect Alex Burmistrov, prompting him to bolt to the KHL this past offseason. Earlier this week, more problems arose with young winger Evander Kane, as Noel chose not to play him against the Chicago Blackhawks after missing the game before due to an undisclosed injury, though Kane said he was healthy.
“I felt healthy enough to play,” Kane told the Winnipeg Sun. “My definition of a healthy scratch is a healthy player not playing. That was my interpretation.”
Noel has failed to create an identity or a philosophy for his players to play by, and the mistakes continue to pile up, with the failure to reach the playoffs hanging over Noel.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was overworked last year, playing more than any other goaltender in the NHL, and facing the most shots. Why overwork your young goaltender when you have a capable backup at your disposal, in Al Montoya?
After been mistreated in Winnipeg, Alex Burmistrov has flourished in Russia, away from Noel.
There is only so much a head coach can do, ultimately they are not playing the games. No one can force a player to win a battle for the puck in the corner. That’s up to the individual. But the responsibility lies on the coach to motivate his players, make the right game-time decisions, and implement the systems to put his players in a situation to succeed. And when things don’t go well, sometimes all that’s needed is a change.
The story of the inconsistent Winnipeg Jets hasn’t changed in the last two years, and if Claude Noel can’t right the ship soon, he may find himself searching for a new head coaching job.