Top Shelf: Jets grounded once again

Philadelphia, PA ( – It’s not even two weeks into the NHL
season but the walls already are closing in on Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg

Maurice fielded one tough question after another about his 1-4 Jets at a
Monday press conference before finally losing his cool and uttering a certain
four-letter word.

When CBC reporter Jeff Hamilton told Winnipeg’s head coach how Jets forward
Blake Wheeler said it wasn’t “the players’ jobs to keep other teammates
accountable,” Maurice didn’t raise his voice, but his harsh response revealed a
frustrated man who is running out of answers.

“It’s not the player’s job to tell you about it,” Maurice said, cutting off
Hamilton in mid-question. “They don’t have to come out here and open this book
up to you and tell you everything that goes on in the room. I could make you
cry in that (expletive) room. Listen, I understand you have to work with what
you’re given and I appreciate that. But the accountability in the room is
fine. We deal with our problems directly.”

“I apologize for the profanity,” Maurice added.

Maurice is no stranger to feeling pressure behind the bench. Although he is
best known for his two separate stints as Carolina’s head coach, Maurice also
spent two seasons (2006-07, 2007-08) as the bench boss in Toronto, a place
where the hockey media glare shines brighter than it does anywhere else.

But Toronto isn’t the only NHL city where things can get a little hot under
the collar. It turns out the pressure can mount in places like Winnipeg, too.

It’s not just the Jets’ 1-4-0 record this season that is bothering folks in
Winnipeg. The frustration bubbling to the surface now is at least three years
in the making, and some of the issues go back to before Winnipeg regained an
NHL franchise.

The city was glad to have an NHL team again after the Atlanta Thrashers
relocated to Manitoba following the 2010-11 season, but missing the playoffs
three straight times (seven straight if you go back to the Atlanta era) has
eroded most of the public’s goodwill. Beginning this season on such a down
note simply compounds the Jets’ problems, as fans can already see another
spring without a postseason coming down the pike.

Winnipeg’s 2014-15 slate began with promise. The Jets posted a 6-2 victory at
Arizona on Oct. 9, but what has followed is nothing short of dreadful. The
club not only dropped its next four games in regulation, but also was
outscored by a 13-2 margin in the process.

Losing star winger Evander Kane in the opening game of the season to a
sprained right knee hasn’t helped, but the injury doesn’t explain how bad the
Jets have been to date.

Through five games, Winnipeg’s offense has registered only eight goals. Over
half of them have come from two players with Bryan Little recording three
tallies and Wheeler adding two. Mark Scheifele has the Jets’ only goal in 120
minutes of action at home, where Winnipeg has been outscored 6-1.

Of course, it’s unfair to pin everything on Maurice, a guy who only took over
for the fired Claude Noel in January. Shortly after the coaching switch, the
Jets made a valiant late-season run at a playoff spot in 2013-14, going 11-3-1
in Maurice’s first 15 games with the club before a six-game slide in early
March sealed Winnipeg’s fate again.

Based mostly on his early success with the Jets, Maurice was handed a four-
year extension during the offseason and one would think he at least has the
entirety of this season to prove himself before getting fired.

General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, on the other hand, should probably be
updating his resume right about now. He has been calling the shots since the
franchise moved to Winnipeg, replacing the Thrashers’ last GM, Rick Dudley.
Like his predecessor in Atlanta, Cheveldayoff has had little success
concocting a winning formula and his club’s pitiful start to the new season
puts the Jets GM on borrowed time.

At his eventful Monday press conference, which took place less than 24 hours
after the Jets dropped a 4-1 home decision to the rebuilding Calgary Flames,
Maurice bristled when a reporter asked about forthcoming big changes to his
lineup. But if Cheveldayoff gets canned, it seems likely changes will be
coming whether Maurice wants to accept it or not. A new GM may even ignore
Maurice’s contract status and decide to cut ties with the coach and try for a
clean slate.

For now, Maurice is standing firm and hoping what has transpired in the early
going isn’t a continuation of the Jets’ disappointing run in Winnipeg over the
past three seasons. Instead, he is praying the Jets are off to a bad start in
2014-15 and better days lie ahead of his team this season.

“This is a process that we have to go through,” he said. “It was coming at some
point in the year. I’m hopeful to say at some point, ‘I’m glad that it happened
early so we can deal with it now,’ but we’re on a learning curve of how to
handle this.”