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Game #32 – Hawks vs. Jets: Spotlight – The Art of Falling Upwards, by Paul Maurice

It’s hard to wrap your mind around, but Paul Maurice is in his 20th year as an NHL head coach. He’s only 51. Yes, this is what happens when you’re hired at age 29 to coach a team, as Maurice was in Hartford. He’s coached the 8th most seasons in NHL history. This year he will pass Pat Quinn in number of games coached. He’s coached more games than Mike Keenan and Jacques Lemaire, Jacques Martin, and Darryl Sutter, if you can believe it.

And what makes it more shocking is that he’s no damn good at it.

In those 20 seasons, Maurice’s teams have reached the playoffs five times. They’ve won a round just twice, both in Carolina as he led them to a Final in 2002 and then came back to relieve Peter Laviolette and got them to a conference Final in ’09. That’s it. Three first round exits, and hasn’t even won a playoff game since 2009. Of the coaches with the 20 longest tenures by seasons, Maurice’s 57 total playoff games is by far the lowest. The next on the list is Art Ross, who stopped coaching in 1945 and whose teams could only play 14 playoff games at most per year.

What made Maurice’s continued employment in Winnipeg even more infuriating was how much talent he was wasting. Wheeler, Scheifele, Laine, Little, Ehlers, Byfuglien, Trouba and we could go on. Yes, the Jets and Maurice were let down by their goaltending, but it was Maurice who also kept tossing Ondrej Pavelec out there. The Jets should have been at the top of the Central or approaching for at least the last three years.

More grating was that the past three years the Jets finished in the top six in penalty minutes per game. This is a team with so much firepower you’d think they’d want to spend as much time at evens or on the power play as they could. And yet Maurice continued to push a style and attitude that was hellbent on dick-measuring, and because of the goaltending and system their penalty killing was always substandard. It helped sink those seasons when they could have been so much more, even with the shoddy goaltending.

It’s seemingly taken only 20 years, but Maurice appears to have finally gotten it. The Jets are now middle of the pack in terms of penalties per game. The penalty kill still isn’t good, but at least they’re on it less.

It’s not all roses for Maurice, though. So far this season is the third consecutive where their metrics have gotten worse. This is a team that’s far too skilled to be on the negative side of possession or expected goals, and yet here they are. And this actually isn’t the best goaltending Maurice has gotten at even-strength, as his last playoff team got a spasm of good keeping from Pavelec before he crashed to Earth and the Ducks summarily eviscerated them in the playoffs.

Given the scoring talent the Jets have, they can always outshoot some of their underlying numbers. And there’s no crime against getting good goaltending. It’s just a mark of how the NHL works that someone like Maurice, who hasn’t proven he’s really good at anything behind the bench other than squandering talent, can be employed this long. If you want to know why you never really see anything that innovative or creative in hockey, here’s an excellent reason why. It’s almost if Maurice kept getting work because GMs saw that others hired him and figured, “Well he must do something.”

And he doesn’t.

Game #32 Preview




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