The River City Renegade

Winnipeg Jets: Is Paul Maurice really that good a coach?

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I lied. Sort of. Kind of. It wasn’t an intentional lie, understand. It wouldn’t even qualify as a little, white lie.

When I wrote last month that I was shutting down The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog, I meant it. I was done after more than 40 years of scribbling about all matters on the Winnipeg sports landscape. Now, as you can see, The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog is again very much up and running.

Perhaps I merely needed time away. Some space, as they say (whoever they are).

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

There have been things I wanted to write about in the presence of my own absence, most of them pertaining to the Winnipeg Jets, who continue to send front-line players to the infirmary yet still conspire to win games and make a genuine push toward participation in next spring’s Stanley Cup tournament.

I truly do not know what to make of this National Hockey League outfit. I mean, is Paul Maurice that good a coach? His backline has been ransacked, but he plugs the holes with spare parts provided by general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff or the farm in Newfy Land and the beat goes on, tickety-boo.

I must confess that, until this week, I had aligned myself fully with the skeptics. There is, in hockey, an axiom that tells us “You are what your record says you are.” Well, that didn’t wash with me. I remained unconvinced that these Jets, a group with no post-season pedigree, were built of playoff brick and mortar. Then they skated into the Toddlin’ Town and laid a proper paddywhacking on the Blackhawks, 5-1. You win with that defence—Adam Pardy, Paul Postma, Jay Harrison, Grant Clitsome and Ben Chiarot? In Chicago?

That’s not to dismiss the sizeable contribution (literally and figuratively) of Dustin Byfuglien, the born-again blueliner who’s been wearing his happy face ever since coach PoMo freed him from his purgatory of right wing. Big Buff has been gobbling up ice time like burgers at a BBQ. He spent just under 28 1/2 minutes roaming the Madhouse on Madison freeze Tuesday evening, and he managed to do so without crippling calamity.

This, of course, is a notable departure from the past, when Byfuglien patrolled the blueline like he had a live grenade in his hockey britches. To say Big Buff was prone to pratfalls is to say Don Cherry is apt to wear loud clothing while dissing Europeans.

So now this is the question: What does coach PoMo do when Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart rejoin the fray?

He will, no doubt, do the right thing because Maurice seems to have a knack for doing the right thing.

None of this, by the way, should be taken as an indictment of coach PoMo’s predecessor as the Jets’ bench puppet master, Claude Noel. The club’s unexpected perch in a playoff position as we carve our Christmas turkeys does not mean Noel is a lousy coach. It merely confirms what many of us believed long before his dismissal last January—he was the wrong coach for this group.

Whereas these players zoned out Noel, Maurice has them in a zone.

Naturally, skeptics remain. At least one pundit, Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, directs our attention to the Jets’ pre-break form chart which indicates they have feasted on sub-.500 outfits (12-1-3) and struggled vs. stronger sides (6-9-4).

“If they continue on the same trajectory, this team will fade down the stretch,” Gary La La writes, noting that the Winnipegs will line up against plus-.500 teams in 32 of their final 47 skirmishes.

Could be it’s an accurate assessment. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time this franchise has performed a faceplant in the back half of a once-promising crusade, and operating sans your top four defencemen surely will take a toll.

I’m still not convinced that we’ll see spring shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie after April 11, but I am sold on one thing: Paul Maurice. Apparently his players are, too.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

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