Paul Maurice

Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

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Friedman’s column, January 13th: Jets coach Paul Maurice has tough task ahead

Opening:

Friedman’s opening this week centered on the task ahead for Paul Maurice, which is more or less “make a team with average talent good.” He highlights that there doesn’t seem to be any name players available that they could trade for, so he’s more or less going to have the roster he has until next summer. It ain’t going to be easy.

He also talks about how some other coaches are waiting to see what comes available this summer, and how Maurice is “betting on himself” by taking the Jets job now and “jumping the queue” by doing so. Personally, I think you’d have to be mighty, mighty, MIGHTY confident you’re going to be hired for one of the roles that opens up this summer (assuming X amount do), because there’s only 30 head coaching jobs in the league, and most people, when offered one, are smart not to hold out for the perfect one. You don’t know that it’ll ever show up, so “tough road ahead” is better than sitting on the couch.

10 Thoughts

3. If I ran the Jets, I would not trade Kane unless the return was massive. A 22-year-old 30-goal scorer locked-in at $5.25 million US is an extremely valuable piece. Last year, Kane played hard down the stretch despite a wrist injury. This year, there’s been some weird stuff. He left Saturday’s pre-game skate after 10-15 minutes with his hand injury, much to the surprise of teammates and coaches. He called himself a healthy scratch when sat for a game earlier, when the team didn’t think he was available because he hadn’t practised. This is a big test for Maurice.

I’ve been digging around about the Jets because I’m curious about the validity of the things being written about them. Every other week Gary Lawless has an article calling for the head of Dustin Byfuglien on a pike, and just the other day Mark Spector wrote a post claiming both Kane and Byfuglien need to get their s*** together (my phrasing). Basically, what I’ve heard is that those things seem to be somewhat true – the star players were over-coddled by Claude Noel, Kane still has some maturing to do, and things do need to change.

Because I totally agree with Elliotte about the idea of trading a 22-year-old 30-goal scoring making nickels (maybe don’t?), I think Kane will be Maurice’s biggest challenge. One thing I know about spoiled players is that they aren’t a fan of coaches who come in and draw a hard line. So if that’s what they need, you risk creating a divide (doghouse!), and being forced to trade a guy below his market value. So yeah: the Jets new coach has his work cut out for him with a couple of his stars.

5. One other thing about the Jets: their goaltending is below an acceptable level. Right now, the NHL’s average save percentage is .913. Only 2011-12, which was .914, would be higher since 1984. Ondrej Pavelec is at .898. It should be pointed out that Winnipeg made Columbus look like the Harlem Globetrotters the other night, but the team needs some saves.

Long-term goalie contracts, man. You don’t want to be handing too many of those out.

Ondrej Pavelec has one year above league average goaltending, because he is not above league average. If you’re a team with fringe players that’s going to need some breaks to be a playoff team, the last thing you need is bad goaltending. (Sorry to my man Allan Walsh, and the #pavelectric hashtag. The cord is unplugged and the prongs are irreparably damaged.)

15. It’s public knowledge the Sabres are working on removing the interim tag from Ted Nolan, as a contract extension is being discussed. It sounds like some of the interviewees were asked how they would feel about keeping the coaching staff, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at that news.

 So, how to do this tastefully…let’s see…

I have a tiny, tiny amount of experience with Ted Nolan – like 10 days of an Islanders pre-season – but I’ve talked with a lot of players who have more from that year, and I think I know enough to say: don’t do this Buffalo. Not “Don’t do it” because Ted Nolan is a bad guy, or not a smart guy, or anything like that, but because Ted Nolan is an old school coach who doesn’t provide a comparative amount of system work to other coaches. He does a lot of motivating, and he’s well-liked, and guys will play for him…all that. But there are coaches now who think the game differently and will pick apart a coach who’s not going to do anything more than the basics when things go wrong: motivate some more, leave the same system in place, shuffle the lines and throw the guys back over the boards.

I’ve got this thing with “old school coaches.” Fans love them, but it’s a real, real easy job to do if you do it the “old school way.” You have like four tricks in your arsenal: yell, encourage, shuffle lines/bench people…and, I don’t know. There has to be another. Of course there’s a system, but it’s usually the only one they know. And, if you have a great roster you’ll be fine-ish (freedom for skill guys is okay) and if you have a bad roster you’ll be real bad (freedom for bad players is not okay). The Sabres have a bad roster, they’re going to have young players who could really use some guidance…I just don’t think Ted Nolan – again, a good man – is the guy you want shaping the hockey minds of your up-and-coming regular players.

16. When Brian Burke took over in Calgary, he talked openly about his vision for the team. Asked a similar question, [Tim] Murray [now in Buffalo] had some interesting comments about the skill he values most: hockey sense. His poster boy for that is Corey Perry. Murray was with the Ducks when Perry was drafted in 2003.

I’m totally, totally on board with this. I swear if you have 25 smart players you’ll be damn near impossible to beat. Some guys believe in just drafting the most skill and/or size available – “Look at that monster, he can fly!” - then leaning back in their chair and hoping those players figure it out. I’ll take your turnover-prone brain-dead team against my group of Paul Stastny-level thinkers any day (think about the things Stastny does well. He’s kinda small. Doesn’t skate great. Doesn’t have a great shot. 432 points in 510 NHL games. Dats brains, my friend.) 

In a hockey system with hinges and pulleys and reads and switches, I’ll take thinkers in the d-zone too. Good call, Tim Murray.

20. Columbus fought its way back into the playoff picture, four back of the wild card with games in hand. They are 4-1 since Nathan Horton joined the group, and he’s formed a nice, aggressive line with Artem Anisimov and Boone Jenner. GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Horton’s biggest effect is that he’s a calm presence. “He’s been through everything.”

I know Horton is a pretty chill guy in general, particularly off the ice, but he’s kind of a crazy person on it. There’s this odd group of non-heavyweight fighters (or at least ones that can actually play) who seem constantly on the verge of, or rather, in need of, punching someone in the face. That’s Nathan Horton to me (Chris Stewart is in the club too).

Last year the dude’s shoulders came out so often they were sponsored by You Can Play, yet there he was with the Bruins, still dropping the gloves whenever he found a taker.

22. Kekalainen’s a really good quote. Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch had an interesting piece last week about Jack Johnson’s disappointment at not making the U.S. Olympic squad, and the role of Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, an assistant on the national team. Asked if it was an issue, the GM downplayed it. “We had a meeting and we discussed it…There’s still a chance that he gets to the Olympics and his play can determine that.” Then, he paused. “I’m not specifically talking about Jack Johnson, but sometimes a player has to look at their own play for the reasons he did not make it.” He’s been very noticeable (in a good way) since. 

This is Babcock-ian motivation from Kekalainen, and I love the Blue Jackets’ GM for it. He’s taking what could be a negative situation, and in the media, saying something thoughtful (manipulative? Whatever) that will only serve to give his guy a gentle kick in the tush while also giving him a pat on the back. “He could still get there. ASSUMING HE PLAYS BETTER FOR US FIRST.”

I hate to say this, but did you see Mike Babcock’s comments after Tomas Tatar lost his father? Babcock’s comments were thoughtful, sincere and probably true, but I still feel like he was coaching. “The way you honor your father or your mother when they pass is by continuing to do what you should do. Playing hard and doing things well. I lost my mom early, too. I never wanted to let her down. And his dad is here with him.” And I believe he believes that, and I don’t disagree in the slightest. But still…he’s coaching a little bit there, isn’t he? The “play hard and do things well” part? ANYWAY, the point is, that’s what I believe Kekalainen was doing. He knows guys read the paper. Hell, that’s how Jack Johnson found out his coach didn’t support him in the first place.

23. The big TV audience for the New Year’s game may allow the possibility of more Canadian teams, probably as the visitor. Toronto was a test case, and passed big. Montreal makes a lot of sense, because the Canadiens are a big brand and don’t seem to be bothered by the cameras on their version of 24/7. Philadelphia’s been reported as Washington’s opponent next season, but there’ve been rumblings about Chicago, too.

I could dig a 24/7 that takes me out on the town in Montreal, that sounds fun. Part of the reason this Winter Classic did so well was proximity to hockey’s biggest fanbase, but I have no doubt that a smaller venue somewhere else with a Canadian team wouldn’t lack Canadians either. It’s not going to be a real thrill ride if every year we’re rehashing the same six east coast teams, so they’ve gotta figure something out.

26. So, how much does the first tiebreaker — regulation and overtime wins — really matter to who makes the playoffs? Just ask the Dallas Stars. Since this setup was enacted in 2010-11, the Stars have missed the playoffs three times despite having more ROWs than someone who got there instead. One was the Kings in 2012, the year they won the Stanley Cup.

I don’t tend to look at ROWs to see “who has the tiebreaker” at the end of the season, I look at it to figure out which teams are better or worse than their place in the standings. I find ROWs to be a pretty good indicator of true team quality.

27. Others who got in despite a tiebreaker disadvantage? Florida as a division winner in 2012, even though Tampa Bay had three more ROWs. Ottawa and the Islanders both made it in 2012-13 despite being behind Winnipeg and Philadelphia. San Jose was 11th in the Western Conference in this stat last season, but still got in and made it to Game 7 of the second round. Maybe this number is not as big as we think. 

See, again, I’m on the opposite side of this. Obviously it’s entirely better to get points, and that includes points in the shootout. It’s just…better. It will help you get in playoffs before anything else. But during the season, I find it handy to note, as I did the other day “Washington might not be as good as people think, because they barely ever win games outright. They limp into OTs and win shootouts. Eight shootout wins is a lot.”

28. Looked through all of Toronto’s games this season to see how its fourth line was used in comparison to opponents. In 39 of 47 games so far, a Maple Leaf forward had less ice time than anyone from the other team. What stands out is that 14 times there were at least two forwards with less time. And, 16 times three forwards were lower. (Note: I eliminated situations where someone was injured early, like Patrick Eaves at the Winter Classic and Dave Bolland in Vancouver). With the compressed schedule, you can’t help but wonder if they are going to need more depth.

They’re going to need more depth. I mean, they just are. Peter Holland should be playing every night, Frazer McLaren is more or less devoid of NHL value…you know the drill. If you’re on Twitter, you’ve seen these drums beaten heavily for over a year now. They need everyone healthy (Bolland would be a start), and a few breaks. Their goaltending can only drag this team so far. An extra piece or two up front would sure go a long way.