WINNIPEG — Whenever a team goes through a pair of early exits, it’s natural to take stock of where things stand with the head coach and general manager.
Inevitably, there will be some calls for change, even if it’s only from the vocal minority.
When question period opened up in earnest for Vol. 2 of the Winnipeg Jets mailbag, several of you (including, @swervin_mervin and @gojetsgo_17) were curious about where things stood with Paul Maurice and Kevin Cheveldayoff, and whether or not either of those individuals could be on the hot seat if things don’t start out well for the organization whenever next season begins.
Although the term was never announced by the Jets, Maurice signed a multi-year extension last season (believed to be three years) and Cheveldayoff still has multiple years left on the extension he signed in September of 2017.
Cheveldayoff took the job in the summer of 2011 and he’s set for his 10th off-season and draft with the organization.
Although the sentiment is shared virtually every off-season, it’s easy to make the argument that this could be the most important one for Cheveldayoff and his staff when it comes to expediting the process of helping the Jets move back into contender status.
As for Maurice, he’s about to enter his seventh full season (and eighth overall since taking over for Claude Noel.
The crutch for many of Maurice’s detractors is that he’s accumulated the most losses in NHL history.
That’s a fact and he’s going to have an opportunity for that number to continue to rise.
With Lindy Ruff taking over the New Jersey Devils, Maurice moves down to sixth on the active list of career wins with 732 (four behind Ruff and 113 behind Barry Trotz), so that can’t be discounted either.
But when it comes to the numbers, Maurice has done his best work since joining the Jets in January of 2014.
In 516 regular-season games, Maurice’s record is 272-90-54, which is good for a .579 winning percentage.
The Jets have a record of 12-19 in the post-season and have won two of the six series they’ve participated in — including their qualifying round matchup with the Calgary Flames earlier this month.
Let’s temporarily cede the floor to Maurice, who was recently asked in his year-end media availability why he’s still the right man for the job.
“So, you would look at that and we would say off the start the first playoff round we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so I was the right guy then,” said Maurice, who was just getting started.
“I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year was, I’m going to rate (it) as top-three years that I’ve had in this league and I’ll include my staff on that.
“We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through. (It’s) very difficult in this league to develop and attempt to win at the exact same time, rarely does it happen. And we’ve had too many good, young players who have come in and their games continue to get better and better, and you would have lots of confidence and faith that would continue going forward.”
Maurice has ample experience, as someone with 1,600 regular-season games on his resume to go along with another 84 during the post-season.
In Winnipeg, he’s had success. That can’t be disputed either.
The Jets finished second in the NHL, just behind the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Nashville Predators during the 2017-18 season.
Maurice helped the Jets reach the Western Conference final, where his team won the series opener with the Vegas Golden Knights but lost the next four.
The significance of 2018 is top of mind as the Washington Capitals recently fired head coach Todd Reirden following a pair of first-round exits since taking over for Dauphin, Man., product Barry Trotz.
There’s no doubt the Jets failed to meet expectations during the 2019 playoffs when they were bounced in the opening round by the St. Louis Blues, who ended up capturing the Stanley Cup.
As for this season, adversity was the order of the day for the Jets — who dealt with a number of injuries, an overhaul of the defence corps and then didn’t have the services of Dustin Byfuglien.
There’s no doubt the Jets will be looking to clean up their defensive play and special teams will need to be better.
The Jets have another level they can reach, but there is no evidence to suggest Maurice has lost the room. He’s still connecting with this group and has their attention.
Maurice started to chip away at the narrative of relying on veterans around the periphery of his roster, but he needs to take another step next season.
Finding additional ice time for the fourth line is going to be important as well — and that role could be filled by guys like Jansen Harkins, Mason Appleton and David Gustafsson.
With goalie Connor Hellebuyck, captain Blake Wheeler, top centre Mark Scheifele, high-scoring wingers Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers and defenceman Josh Morrissey all under contact for at least four more seasons, the Jets are clearly in win-now mode.
Cheveldayoff must find a way to bolster the personnel and then it’s up to Maurice to get the most out of that group.
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The Jets are an organization that values continuity and loyalty — those things would suggest things would have to seriously go off the rails for the organization to consider making a change for either the head coach or the GM.
The Jets are searching for an assistant coach after the departure of Todd Woodcroft, who is the new bench boss for the University of Vermont.
What the trickle-down impact of that addition has on the rest of the coaching staff will be interesting to monitor.
Do you think Cheveldayoff tries to fill his holes at centre and on the back end in free agency first and then via trade if that doesn’t work out? Or does he get aggressive before FA for one or both? @DJ_Bif_WPG
Not sure this is a one or the other proposition or if one option is preferred compared to the other.
How aggressive and creative are the Jets going to be on the trade market, especially given the available cap space at their disposal?
That is likely to be dictated by the market itself.
The Jets aren’t the only team with money to spend.
It’s safe to say the Jets have a bit more money to offer a pending free agent and it’s probably optimal to pursue an upgrade when all it does is cost an organization money and not prospects or picks (especially in a year when the Jets enter the 2020 NHL Draft with only four of them).
But I don’t expect the Jets to close the door on a potential trade, depending on who is available and what the cost of acquisition is.
For me, it’s all about timing when it comes to the trade market.
Are the Jets going to lock in on a player or two to fill needs on defence and second-line centre and make their best pitch? Or is there an element of cat-and-mouse required to see if being patient could drive down the price?
There’s a risk attached to either method, but upgrading the personnel is a priority for the Jets this off-season and I expect them to be active on both fronts.
Could one blockbuster deal fill both needs? That seems unlikely, though it’s always possible.
Is Torey Krug also available? Would he be a better option than Alex Pietrangelo? @winnipegchris9
Earlier this week, one of my stories focused on how challenging it could be for the St. Louis Blues to retain the services of their captain and top-pairing blue-liner, and how the Jets could be well-situated to make a significant short-term offer.
That’s the context required when it comes to the availability of Boston Bruins D-man Torey Krug.
Yes, barring an extension, Krug is also set to hit the open market in October and he’ll be another guy in hot pursuit.
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.
Krug is another top-pairing minute-muncher who would prefer to remain with the only organization he’s ever known.
There’s no doubt he would provide an upgrade to the Jets’ defence corps and is worth pursuing.
For me, Pietrangelo is more appealing for several reasons: he’s right-handed and the Jets’ power play set-up works better with one as a one-timer option at the top.
Otherwise, Krug is incredibly competitive and is a winner. His vision and skating ability would help the Jets a great deal when it comes to exiting the defensive zone.
He’s a year younger than Pietrangelo, but it’s going to take a big offer to land Krug as well, as he’s finishing off a four-year deal that carries an AAV of $5.25 million.
Are the Jets going to sign Taylor Hall and could he help solve the 2C problem? @_jack_notbox and @wildhairyguy
It’s an interesting proposition, though it’s unlikely Hall is going to be converted from left wing to centre at this stage in his career.
Hall is one of the more intriguing players who are going to be available in October, though the flat cap is going to be a factor when it comes to both term and AAV for the first-overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft.
He’s produced 218 goals and 563 points in 627 NHL games, but has been limited to just 14 post-season games during his 10 campaigns to date — nine of which came this summer with the Arizona Coyotes.
Hall, who turns 29 in November, has expressed his desire to play for a contender, but he’s going to want to receive market value as well.
After all, he did win the Hart Trophy in 2017-18 after recording career-bests in goals (39) and points (93) across 76 games with the New Jersey Devils.
Does he take a one or two-year deal in the interim, with the hopes that market correction is around the corner and that the cap will soon be back on the rise?
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That’s where things could get interesting and also limit the field of teams around the league that could fit Hall in under the $81.5 million cap.
The Jets have plenty of firepower on the wings, so that makes him an unlikely target — unless another winger is moved for a centre or a D-man that has term on their current deal.
Where do you see Dylan Samberg playing next season? @Krahny17
This will be one of the most interesting storylines to monitor whenever training camp opens for the Jets.
Under normal circumstances, the Jets’ second-round pick from 2017 would have probably snuck into the lineup before the regular season had ended and certainly would have been part of the taxi squad for the playoffs — had there not been limits imposed due to the pandemic.
Samberg has come a long way in a short period of time.
Prior to his three solid seasons with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Samberg played part-time in the USHL and returned to Hermantown High School to lead his team to the state championship.
In the meantime, he’s been part of two world junior hockey championship teams and won consecutive NCAA Frozen Four titles.
He has a lot of qualities the Jets would like to add to the defence corps, including size and mobility.
Samberg plays a physical game and projects to be a guy who could flourish in a shutdown role, but his most likely path to an NHL job is to start on the third pairing.
Eventually, it’s not tough to envision him as being a suitable partner for Neal Pionk but if Samberg is able to earn a spot on the opening-day roster, it’s most likely going to be playing alongside Tucker Poolman.
It’s important to remember Samberg is only 21 and it’s possible he could need some seasoning at the AHL level and the same goes for 2019 first-rounder Ville Heinola.
There’s a chance both players could break camp with the Jets and the future is bright for both of them. How quickly they become NHL regulars will depend on their performance and to a degree, which players are brought in via trade or free agency.