Hockey

Friends, you’ve probably been frustrated at some point watching some moron you work with get a promotion you were sure you were more qualified for, or even just a promotion you know they had no business getting. Or perhaps you just watch things in society and wonder how someone you’re sure can’t tie their shoes can end up with so much more money than you. For instance, Jim Crane clearly has a whistling sound working between his ears, and yet he’s rich enough to own a MLB team.

Maybe hockey isn’t for us if that’s how we feel.

Paul Maurice earned another contract extension this week. That’s the same coach who in six years at the helm has won two playoff series, both in the same year. That’s with perhaps the best top six in the league, one of the deepest forward corps around, and before this year at least a serviceable defense. Oh, and two of the past three seasons he’s gotten near Vezina-level goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck.

And that’s still been the case this year, and the Jest are still outside the playoff places. Sure, the defense has been stripped of Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba, but losing the former shouldn’t hurt your defensive structure much if at all. And the Jets remain one of the worst defensive teams in the league, in terms of the shots, attempts, and chances they give up.

But if you watch the Jets, it’s not just lack of talent. They just don’t care. Some night, their lack of effort in their own zone is so noticeable it’s laughable. The Jets are one of the worst metrics teams in the league. Even with that defense, given the wealth of talent at forward, they shouldn’t be drowning in attempts and chances against on a nightly basis.

And this has been going on for a bit. The Jets tried to get Maurice fired during their playoff series lost to the Blues last year. They blew assignments, they lacked desire, they played selfishly at times. They didn’t want to be there, most of all. And yet Maurice wasn’t fired. He wasn’t fired in the middle of this year when they haven’t been in the playoff spots all season. And now he’s installed for more years. How?

Maurice and GM Kevin Chevldayoff let Patrik Laine force their hand in the lineup and play on the top line, which used to be Blake Wheeler’s spot. They let Trouba stick around for multiple years when he made it clear he hated it there and hated Maurice until they had to trade him (and did get Neal Pionk out of it, but could they have gotten more previously?).

Chevyldayoff’s draft record is impressive enough, as a good portion of this team is his doing. Though the only player in the last three drafts to even make it to the NHL is Laine. He’s made trades for Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes to bolster the team for what he hoped would be Cup chases. But it may be up now. The Jets have only just north of $7M in space for next year, and the only players signed are Hellebuyck, Morrissey, Pionk, Poolman, and the top six. If the Jets lose their forward depth, the sink could go even farther.

But is Maurice really the guy to guide these players? His pedigree is non existent. He has one Cup Final appearance in 22 years coaching in this league. He has two conference final appearances. That’s in 22 years. While the Jets no longer are one of the dumber teams in the league in terms of penalties, which used to be a Maurice staple, it’s still in their locker. And as you’ve seen against the Hawks, this is one of the biggest and fastest teams at forward in the league. But they so rarely play like it, which is how they’ve gotten tonked by the Hawks twice. Last Sunday, when they actually decided to play up to it, the Hawks couldn’t cope. Few teams could.

But this is the NHL. You get one job, you get 17 (unless you’re Mike Kitchen). And you get to keep coaching in a place you wore out your welcome in long ago.

Hockey

Patrik Laine – All jokes about how he looks like he’d ask you three questions to let you cross his bridge, the Jets have bent over backwards for this guy in recent years and he’s pretty much just been a floater. They listened to him bitch incessantly last year about playing on the second line. So they handed him a new contract, shifted their captain back to center and Laine up to play on their top line. He’s given them a fine 30-goal pace season but also doesn’t impact the game in any other way. He is what everyone wanted to believe Alex Ovechkin was back in the day. His metrics are woeful. This guy stands around and waits to shoot and nothing else, and the Jets might want to consdier what they could get for him in the trade market one day soon.

Paul Maurice: Not easy to keep a job you clearly suck at. This is still one of the most talented forward groups in the league, with a goalie playing at a Vezina level. They’re still not in the playoffs, his players clearly hate him, and they haven’t played defense in two seasons. And yet he can’t get fired. God bless the NHL.

Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 13-16-6   Jets 20-12-2

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN

YOUR TAUNTAUN WILL FREEZE TO DEATH: Jetsnation.ca

The last thing a team in turmoil in the dressing room and playing like shit needs is three games in four nights. Even worse, it needs even less those three games to be against teams at the top of the division. And we’re not done, as the last two of the troika are on the road, with the last at altitude. It’s Wiggum into the hot dog machine, folks…

To be fair, the Jets aren’t that close to the Blues or Avs. They’re just a hell of a lot closer than the Hawks are, and currently hold the last automatic spot in the Central. They only have that though with a tiebreaker over the Stars, and should the Stars catch them the Jets will be in the muck as much as anyone else hovering around the wildcard spots.

So how did the Jets get here? You’d probably naturally conclude they shot their way to 42 points, but you’d be wrong. It’s hard to fathom with all the firepower the Jets have in their top six that they’re a middling 16th in goals per game, but that’s the case. They can’t figure now if Patrik Laine’s first two years are actually the outlier and now he’s just a slightly plus-sniper, but moving to the top line hasn’t shown him to be the 50-goal scorer he once flashed. Blake Wheeler has moved to the second line and while he’s producing alongside Nikolaj Ehlers, they haven’t quite brought Jack Roslovic along for the ride.

Injuries up front haven’t helped. Bryan Little is taking his customary few weeks off with some ailment or something falling off of him. Mathieu Perreault got hurt recently, and Andrew Copp left Tuesday’s game and will miss out tonight. That’s eroded what used to be one of the best third lines in the league with Adam Lowry, who will have some strangers around him tonight.

The Jets have kept their goals against down, but that’s mostly due to the brilliance of Connor Hellebuyck. He’s currently third in the league in overall SV% behind Bishop and Kuemper, and the Jets have the sixth best SV% at evens. And they need it, because this is a woeful defensive team. The departure of Jacob Trouba and the sojourn of Dustin Byfuglien (somehow) has destroyed the blue line, as the Jets have the third-worst expected GA in the league. They’re right behind the Hawks. And the thing is they’re decent enough at limiting attempts. They just can’t do much about those attempts being prime chances far too often. Strangely, Tucker Poolman didn’t save the day. I know, right?

The Jets power play hasn’t really fired yet, but you’d have to expect a binge sometime given all that is has on it.  It lacks a true QB without Byfuglien, even though that’s a very weird sentence. With that and the play of Hellebuyck, you’d have to guess the Jets will find themselves in the playoffs again. And Paul Maurice will still hang onto his job, even though that defies explanation and the team quit on him last year.

For the Hawks, it’s hard to imagine they’ll scratch Seabrook a second night in a row, given that Keith and Toews were already moaning about it yesterday. Given the size the Jets still have, wouldn’t be a shock of Colliton uses that as an excuse to sit Boqvist and keep Gilbert in the lineup, even though the Jets are going to go right around him the way the Avs did. Robin Lehner rotates in. Perhaps Sikura could get a look now that Highmore has proven to be nothing more than an extra? I won’t hold my breath.

If the Hawks are smart, which they aren’t, they can get chances against this team because the blue line is straight-up bad. But they have to keep their zone from getting caved in, which is hard to do against this top six. It’ll be the same plan for the Jets as it was the Avs last night. Attack the Hawks line at speed and get around their plodding defense. Cycle from low to high to confuse their coverage. Win all the races because the Hawks can’t get there. Don’t let Kane and DeBrincat and Saad get out in space.

We’ll see if they execute. With another date with the Avs looming Saturday, this has every chance of being an ugly week. Not ugly enough to force any tough decisions of course. There’s a process, don’t ya know?

 

Hockey

Paul Maurice – He could have stopped this Blues thing at the first hurdle. Instead he got an immensely more talented team to quit on him and let the monster out of the box. Kept his job though, which you have to be impressed by. Continually runs one of the dumbest teams in the league.

Dustin Byfuglien – Actually, ditching out on Winnipeg to drink on a beach somewhere is all of our dreams.

Winnipeg Airport – Because it doesn’t exist.

Hockey

We bring our team previews to a close, where we most definitely didn’t skip anyone, with the team that has every chance to be the best comedy act in the league this year. A lettered captain has already fucked off for the all-you-can-eat-and-drink menu at Caesar’s. They hated their coach last year, and yet he’s still coaching. The defense has been ripped apart to the point where they really need Carl Dahlstrom. Patrik Laine bitched to everyone he wants to play on the top line, where there doesn’t appear to be any room, which will make his linemates on the second line feel very welcoming. There’s still a wealth of talent in Winnipeg, and on that alone they could cozy up to 100 points. Or they could deteriorate right out of the playoffs.

2018-2019

47-30-5  99 points (2nd in Central, out in 1st round)

3.29 GF/G (7th)  2.96 GA/G (15th)

48.9 CF% (19th)  47.7 xGF% (23rd)

24.6 PP% (4th)  79.2 PK% (22nd)

Goalies: Same as last year, as Connor Hellebuyck will be backed up by Laurent Brossoit. Hellebuyck didn’t hit the heights of the previous year, at a solid .913 overall. The problem for the Jets is they weren’t very good defensively, and they figure to be a measure worse this year. So .913 very well might not be near enough to not give up three goals per game or worse. More worrying, is that Hellebuyck lagged behind his expected save-percentage last year at evens, which simply can’t happen this year. Is he the .924 guy of ’17-’18 or is he more to the career .915? It’s probably the latter, but will that include enough miracles to keep their excellent finishing close enough to win games? Real question.

Brossoit was excellent as a backup last year, and if he puts up another .920 and Hellebuyck struggles a bit, Paul Maurice is going to have another headache he doesn’t know how to handle.

Defense: Goodness. This is a unit. Byfuglien has fucked off, and likely isn’t coming back. Jacob Trouba finally got his wish, which was an escape from Winnipeg. Tyler Myers shuffled off to Vancouver, though that’s not a bad thing. So the only remaining player from last year’s top four is Josh Morrissey, and we don’t know if he’s actually good or looked good next to Trouba. Dmitry Koulikov is still here, whatever that does for you. Promising kid Sami Niku has to start in the minors due to conditioning. Nathan Beaulieu, Anthony Bitteto, Dahlstrom, and Tucker Poolman are the very definition of “guys.” Maybe they think Neal Pionk is going to be more than the Rangers did, but this is a goddamn mess. And this was a team that didn’t have impressive metrics when it came to attempts and chances against last season. What’s it going to look like this one? Especially if they try and play as up-tempo as they have, which they kind of need to to get the most out of their forwards.

Forwards: With Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor back in the fold, there is still the ton of finish along with mainstays Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers. There are the nifty two-way guys in Andrew Copp, Mathieu Perreault, Jack Roslovic, and Adam Lowry. It’s not the happiest bunch thanks to the windsock moods of Laine and how everyone feels about the coach. And they’re going to have to continue to outscore opponents and their own defense, because it could be a real challenge. There are going to be nights when they put up five and six. There are also going to be nights when they hit a couple posts or aren’t quite as dynamic and their defense gives up five or six. If the power play isn’t clicking above 20%, they’re going to have real issues.

Prediction: Tire fire. This team absolutely quit on its coach in the playoffs last year and not kicking Maurice to the curb, who’s never known what he’s doing, was a huge mistake. They’ll probably sacrifice the first four to six weeks waiting for Chevyldayoff to clear the gas leak in his office and can Maurice’s ass. From there it’s about the hire and whether the players are too far gone or respond. If they stick with Maurice too long, this will definitely go into the tank and they’re only eight points or so away from slipping out of the playoffs altogether. There’s so much that can go wrong here. If Hellebuyck is only solid, that might not be enough. If no one on the defense claims a higher spot, they’ll get run over. If Josh Morrissey isn’t up to being the guy, they could get run over. If the forwards think they’ve missed their window and give up the fight, which they did once, they won’t score enough to outlast their other problems. And it won’t take much for that asylum up in Manitoba to completely turn on them and turn into a complete zoo.

It’s on a knife’s edge up there, and the smart money is it falls off.

Everything Else

If hockey ever had its own version of Livia’s Soprano’s funeral, this would be it. Here was an utterly miserable team that made everyone around it utterly miserable, maybe even tried to kill a few of them, so how can anyone be upset they’re gone? It’s what they wanted, it’s what we wanted, and even if it came at the hands of the Blues, pretty much everyone is in agreement this was best for everyone involved. No one’s even pretending anymore.

It’s why the Jets were so miserable that makes for interesting debate. The easy out is to pin the blame on Paul Maurice, who seems to tout that he was the NHL’s youngest coach as Mr. Fuji’s salt to throw in the eyes of NHL GMs to blind them to the fact that he’s been an utter moron for a decade or more. Maurice got the Hurricanes to two conference final appearances and a Final appearance, and since then all he has to show for his work is Winnipeg’s two series wins last year. The Jets remain one of the dumber and more penalized teams in the league, even though their PK often looked like a set of beached sea lions near a fish trap. His only ploy when things weren’t working has been “MOAR HITZ”despite having maybe the most skilled set of forwards in the league.

Maurice also reportedly made his players hate life, though admittedly this is not a hard thing to do in Manitoba. Mark Scheifele and Blay Kweeler were allowed to do whatever they wanted, while everyone else got shifted up and down the lineup. Then again, they were the only ones to actually produce all season, so if Patrik Laine wants to bitch he could actually, oh I don’t know, MOVE.

This was a team that claimed missing Dustin Byfuglien for half the season harmed its defense irreparably, even though Buff has all the interest in playing defense of those aforementioned sea lions. And both scenes look strikingly similar. And the Jets were so convinced of this they actually made it true, such was Jacob Trouba’s determination to get out of town he’ll drive his value and salary to Trevor van Riemsdyk levels.

The Jets were actively trying to get Paul Maurice fired since November, when they stopped playing defense altogether, but their collection of talent and the inattentiveness of GM Kevin ShovelDayOff prevented them from doing so midseason. ShovelDayOff’s answer was to acquire Captain Stairwell Kevin Hayes, who was desperate to bolt New York. Did anyone think he would invest in Winnipeg after that? His five-year deal in Florida or Los Angeles, after begging unsuccessfully for the Bruins to sign him so he can go back to throwing up on BU freshmen at Fuller’s, is almost preordained at this point.

But it has to be more than the coach, right? This team that was about as electric as could be last year doesn’t just simply turn into the Wild simply because of one overbearing, overmatched coach. There has to be something else. And it’s probably living in Winnipeg. Patrik Laine might have torpedoed his own value simply because the thought of committing to a frozen bomb shelter for his 20s was so depressing he’s going to be showing up in Robert Smith eyeliner to training camp. It clearly has killed the will and zest of Nikolaj Ehlers, who was hastily trying to rearrange his nameplate to “Ennui” since Christmas.

And much like other teams that have already bitten it, this is the team they’re going to have. Laine and Connor are going to eat up most of the space they have, even if they try and commute from Duluth or anywhere that doesn’t pull their soul out through their nose. Letting Trouba and Myers walk might allow them to reconstruct a defense that’s been playing with things they found at an empty construction site all season, but ShovelDayOff is the same GM who brought in Kulkov and Myers and other fuckwits that got them here in the first place. And Byfuglien will be 35, so his lazy jaunts back into his own zone five seconds late will just become lazy jaunts back into the neutral zone that are five seconds late. But hey, we’ll always have that time he slew-footed Chris Pronger with the Hawks up four in Game 5 that gave every Grabowksi and white-hat in Chicago an erection they hadn’t seen in years.

It’s not just their season we don’t mourn the loss of. It’s their time in the spotlight. There was only ever going to be a short shelf life on Winnipeg itself not smothering the life out of a possibly-great team. You can’t drive to another town to use their airport every few days before you just can’t anymore. And so it seems to be with the Jets. Five years from now they’ll be planing their move to Portland.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Wednesday in Winnipeg, 7pm

Game 2 Friday in Winnipeg, 8:30

Game 3 Sunday in St. Louis, 6:30

Game 4 April 16th in St. Louis, 8:30

While everyone…ok, everyone in Toronto, might bitch about the playoff format, you can’t argue that the 2-3 matchups provide a fuckton of intrigue. Across the board here, three of the four of those look like they’ll be long, competitive, fun series, with only the Pens and Isles being the exception because Trotz will turn it into a local council meeting. And it will probably still be competitive. This one might be the hardest to call, because it’s hard to know what the fuck the Jets have been doing and it’s hard to know what the Blues really are. It probably comes down to whether Jordan Binnington waked up and realizes he’s Jordan Binnington or not. This one feels like it’s going the route.

Goalies: Again, Jordan Binnington. He’s been simply cosmically good since finally wresting the starter’s job from Jake Allen when the Blues couldn’t force-feed it to him anymore. He’s the main reason the Blues went from worst to a pubic hair within the division title. Another reason they almost did is the Jets and Preds could never really get going.

Still, it’s Jordan Binnington, who even St. Louis Gametime hadn’t heard of before he came up and those fuckers literally have nothing else to do but sit and think about the Blues and try and craft statues of Stan Musial out of their own ear/toe wax. Maybe he is this good, and he keeps rolling. But he came unstuck a little in the season’s last month, with only a .912 in March and April. That’s better than league average, but you wonder if league average is enough when the Blues are still basically one line and the Jets are three and a half.

Jets fans have been bitching about Connor Hellebuyck all season, it’s what they do to keep warm. And he’s been fine rather than the really good he was last year. .913 is not .924, but it’s still better than average. Hellebuyck wasn’t helped by his defense, but he also didn’t bail them out as much as he should have. He had one of the higher expected save-percentages in the league and didn’t live up to it. But as we stated when the Jets were here last week, they’ve been horrific defensively for a good portion of the season. It’s unlikely Hellebuyck wins this for the Jets, but it’s just as unlikely he loses it.

Defense: We have a policy of never being impressed by the Blues defense. Alex Pietrangelo is fine, but he’s never been the all-conquering heir to Chris Pronger everyone wants you to believe he is. Colton Parayko, Jabe O’Meester, Joel Edmundson actively suck. Robert Bortuzzo is an ox. They’re finally letting Vinne Bag O’ Dunn run around, which gives them a puck-mover they’ve never had since Kirk ShattenKevin fucked off. But they play a style that doesn’t ask these guys much more than to get in the way, and they keep it pretty well shielded. Again, they won’t wow or impress you, but their mistakes never amount to what you think they should. The Jets forwards are awfully deep and awfully fast and certainly big enough where the Blues drooling on them isn’t going to make them quake. And yet it never works that way.

The Jets have their own problems. They’ve been a shit-heap back there for most of the season. Paul Maurice hasn’t shown any inclination to try and change things. Josh Morrissey will return for this, which is a boon as in the past he and Trouba have done the mine-sweeping to let Dustin Byfuglien and his large cowboy act to take the stage. The Jets have played worse than their talent suggests, even if I think Tyler Myers is a puppet show for the truly bewildered. And yet you can’t trust them, can you?

Forwards: The big advantage for the Jets. While the Blues revival came with greater offense, it mostly came from one line containing Ryan O’Reilly’s hero act and Vladimir Tarasenko taking time out from trying to get yet another coach fired to actually playing. He usually brings it in the playoffs, at least when he’s not yelling at Ken Hitchcock. And I expect him to do the later even with Hitch in absentia.

But beyond that, there isn’t a lot. You count on David Perron if you want. All I see is a stupid third period penalty in waiting. They keep boasting about Robert Thomas. I’m not sure I’ve seen a shift of his I remember. Jaden Schwartz isn’t playing with the quality of players that makes him a weapon. ROR and Tank can probably score just enough where they only need the occasional chip-in from someone else.

But against the Jets, that’s not enough. They may suck to high heaven defensively but this is still the deepest forward crop found in the West. I know Laine has had a truly weird year. He’s also capable of putting up 10 goals in a series. The Jets boast at least three lines that can hurt you and a pretty productive fourth line as well. They will find the weak spots in the Blues defense.

Prediction: It really comes down to can the Jets outscore whatever damage their defense is doing to themselves. Strangely, these teams haven’t seen each other since the first week in December, so it’s hard to see what the leaky Jets look like against the new St. Louis Blues. They’re not going to make it simple, but there’s too much firepower for the Jets and I can’t see Hellebuyck being bad enough to not at least hold them up just close enough for the offense to get over the wall. But it’s going to take a while.

Jets in seven. 

 

Everything Else

The Canadian drought for a Cup goes longer. But the drought for Canadian cities with an airport had died in the first round anyway.

The Winnipeg Jets saved us from yet another flurry of stories and videos about how “NASHVILLE HAS SUCH A UNIQUE” atmosphere from Canadian writers who forgot the place existed from last spring. so we thank them for that. They also punched a variety of holes in the Pekka Rinne myth, and then watched the puck squirt through them for all the goals they would need. So we thank them for that, as well.

But in the end, they couldn’t save us from the new golden children, and we scorn them for that. And now that flurry from last spring will be replaced by a bunch of oh-so-clever headlines from pale-ass Toronto writers like, “Did You Know You Can Have Fun In Vegas?” or “Hey There’s Gambling Here!” or “Steve Simmons Gets His Ass Kicked In By Stripper.” Thank you very fucking much, Jets. We just can’t wait.

In all honesty, this has been a long time coming for the Jets, who should have been at this stage at least two years ago had they not kept trying to foist Ondrej Pavelec on the world in some elaborate prank/gaslighting to convince us all that we don’t exist. What’s that? Ondrej Pavelec? No, he’s totally real. I’m serious. He was their starter for years! Really? Yes, he probably works in a garage somewhere now smoking unfiltered cigarettes before a woman in white pants yells at him for five minutes. Oh, apparently he plays for the Rangers. Same thing.

Anyway, Pavelec or Michael “Hanging In There” Hutchinson always combined to torpedo this uber-talented Jets team year after year. They got some help from Paul Maurice of course, whose philosophy before this season was “MEAT!” The Jets routinely were the dumbest team in the league, and compounding that was they had one of the worst penalty-kills to go along with all those penalties they took as Pavelec looked like being attacked by bees in net while Dustin Byfuglien looked on with an expression on his face that said, “Can you get sick from combining Butterfingers and popcorn?”

Ah yes, Byguflien. Big Buff. DAT BIG BUCK GUY. Once again became the darling of hockey analysts everywhere because he banged in a few goals, pried multiple guys off a scrum who weren’t really doing anything anyway like he was a bouncer at a Harvard bar, and had a few guys try and check him and rebound off the creamy-nougey of his middle. You have to hand it to Buff, he’s excellent at PR because all of those things distract from the three to four times per game he would get caught ahead of the puck before it had even exited the Jets’ zone and he’d have to scramble back. Ha, Buff “scrambling.” There’s a term for you. Right up there with, “Roenick thoughts.”

Anyway, Maurice got away from that this year, as you can’t really ask any coach to take less than four fucking seasons to figure out that he has one of the most talented forward groups in recent vintage and should probably get them to play at evens and the power play as often as possible. It’s a lesson in patience, or dumb luck, as Maurice probably should have been fired two years ago but got to hang around long enough to try this experiment called, “sticking to hockey?” The pinnacle of coaching these days is basically not getting in the way when you have four lines full of skill and Jack Roslovic just waiting around.

And yet it wasn’t quite enough. Maybe it would have been if Patrik Laine’s 1000-yard stare and misplaced beard from the Amish grandmother in Kingpin had been anything more than a passenger for most of the playoffs. Hey Patrik, you’re allowed to do more than wait around for a one-timer. What is it about guys named Patrick? Laine could spend the summer under whatever bridge in Finland he lives going over film of various Knights knocking him off the puck, except there isn’t enough time before training camp.

The Jets might think they’ll be here every year, but the bills are coming due. Trouba, Connor, and Laine are all do extensions in the next year, and Trouba has already tried to escape once. And maybe Blake Wheeler wants to ply his trade somewhere that doesn’t require travel by tauntaun. Paul Stastny says he wants to say and that his family is all for it, proving that either Paul Stastny is drugging his family or literally anywhere is better than St. Louis even when you’re from there.

So this might have been the Jets chance. A first-year team in their way before a chance to play for the Cup. You can’t ask for more…and then Byfuglien skated right by it. Meanwhile, the “loudest building in the league” sounded like a Joni Mitchell soundcheck for the last 40 minutes. You guys want to chip in and maybe inspire? No? Ok cool, go whatever it is you do in Winnipeg for the summer then, which I assume is a whole lot of log-rolling and trying to hit each other with rocks. Oh, and reading Hawks fanfic about trading Toews back there, because that’s something our most unwashed dream about. And in the coming seasons we can get more video packages about the “rivalry” between the Jets and Oilers from the past, where all the old Jets talk about how much they hated the Oilers and Gretzky and Messier respond to questions about it with, “I’m sorry, who?”

It could have been more. It probably should have been. But hey, you’re Canadian. Only so much can be expected. As always, the real cities will take home the real baubles now.

Everything Else

If you are or were a fan of the Jets for a while, they have been one of the more frustrating teams to follow. If you haven’t been a Jets fan, then they’ve been a hilarious team to follow. Because the results you’re seeing now isn’t borne out of new talent. Sure, Patrik Laine is only in his second season. Kyle Connor is in his first full one. Ehlers has only been around for three, but most everyone else has been in Winnipeg for years. Clearly, they should have been better than they were, as they’ve been sporting one of the best forward corps at least for years now.

The goaltending, rightly, got a lot of the blame as Ondrej Pavelec, Michael “Something About You Girl” Hutchinson, and Connor Hellebuyck spent most of their time finding more and creative ways to Nickelodeon-slime the rest of their team the previous few years. Hellebuyck cementing the role as his own this year is the biggest factor as the Jets soared to near the top of the conference.

The other is that Paul Maurice is no longer acting like one of the dumber coaches in the league, nor taking his team with him.

The previous three seasons, the Jets finished no lower than 6th in penalty minutes per game. In terms of just minor penalties, the ones you tend to end up on a penalty kill for, the Jets finished 1st, 3rd, and 4th as far as most minors taken. This year, they’re 17th in penalty minutes per game, and 12th in total minors taken. And don’t think it wasn’t an approach. Maurice accentuated the Jets assholic tendencies, and didn’t really mind if they took swipes after whistles or went for hits out of line because of “intimidation” and “grit” and “beer fart.”

Taking a lot of penalties in the previous years was a monumentally dumb strategy for the Jets, because they were a basket case penalty killing unit. The previous three seasons they finished 13th, 25th, and 26th in penalty kill. So not having a good kill, and putting themselves on it a lot was always going to be a major obstacle for them to actually be any good. So they were bad, and didn’t win a playoff game.

The difference is clear. In special teams goals, the Jets are +13 this year. Last year they were -13, including giving up five 5-on-3 goals. A turnaround of 26 goals is a lot of points they’re banking simply by not being so dumb that they didn’t get last year because they were idiotic.

It also helps when your goalies are unconscious when shorthanded. While systematically the Jets were middling-to-clueless on the kill, they’re goalies simply were waving at more pucks than an octopus trying to catch balloons. Their team SV%’s on the PK were .874, .860, and .849. This year it’s .902, which is unholy, and best in the league. That doesn’t really have much to do with Maurice, but at least they’re not asking as much of their goalies. Given the attempts and chances they give up on the kill, which is higher than the previous three seasons in both, it’s not like Maurice has figured out a better way to kill penalties than “hope my goalie isn’t playing like he’s drunk.” And Hellebuyck hasn’t, so that’s worked. But hey, taking way less penalties is a step in the right direction.

Don’t think this won’t make a difference. Unless they really fuck up, the Jets are staring at what should be the de facto Western Conference Final in the 2nd round. And the Predators are one of the most penalized teams in the league, as Peter Laviolette hasn’t done much to corral the snarl and growl and dumbassery that the Preds developed last spring. A huge gap in special teams, given how good both the Jets’ PP and PK have been, could tilt that series.

And we’re certainly here for a series the Preds lose because they were dumber than the Jets.

 

Game #78 Preview

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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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