The darker nether-regions of the Winnipeg Jets Twitterverse have been either silent or bitter for the last few weeks. One of the Twitter critics’ favorite whipping boys, Jets head coach Paul Maurice signed a brand-new extension with the NHL club in February and since then, the team has played some superb hockey.
Jets president Mark Chipman made the formal announcement of Maurice’s long-term deal at the team’s Hall of Fame luncheon in February and while it was an appropriate place to do it, it also wasn’t surprising and it was well-timed.
Let’s start by saying there was never any concern, at any point this season, that Maurice’s job was actually in jeopardy (despite what you read on Twitter sometimes). He’s loved by the Chipman family and the Jets organization and it was really only a matter of time before he signed an extension to his contract.
“We’d met in the summer to discuss a new deal and it was the direction we all wanted to go,” Maurice said. “We were excited about it. Then as we all know, a whole bunch of things happened. It was kind of on the backburner and eventually we all knew it would be taken care of and it has, recently.”
Maurice, 53, joined the Jets on Jan. 12, 2014 and has a regular season record of 272-190-54 during his time in Winnipeg.
Maurice, who was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., has guided Winnipeg to three playoff appearances and has an 11-16 record in the postseason. The Jets reached the Western Conference Final in 2018.
The bright and erudite coaching veteran picked up his 700th NHL head-coaching victory on Oct. 20, 2019 and coached his 1,500th NHL game on Feb. 5, 2019 and now has a career NHL record of 731-647-221 in 22 seasons with the Jets, Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. On Monday night he coached his 1,599thNHL game.
He is currently No. 5 in NHL history for games coached (1599) and seventh for wins (731). Amongst active coaches currently in the league, he is third in both wins and games coached. Maurice’s 502 games with the Jets trails only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper for the most games by an active coach with their current club.
In his first head coaching stint with the Hurricanes, Maurice led Carolina to the 2002 Eastern Conference title and two Southeast Division crowns. He also had four consecutive winning seasons from 1998-2002. Prior to re-joining the Hurricanes, he collected a record of 76-66-22 during two full seasons as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2006-08. Even with the Leafs, he was a winning coach.
Maurice played his junior hockey with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires (1984-1988). He was Philadelphia’s 12th choice (252nd overall) in the 1985 NHL entry draft. Maurice had his career cut short due to an eye injury and began coaching as an assistant with the Jr. Red Wings shortly thereafter.
Those who know Maurice and know the Jets were well-aware that the two sides in the negotiation were sincerely trying to get something done. Amazingly, in this year of incomparable turmoil for the hockey club, the Jets are not only in the playoff conversation in the Western Conference, but they are, somehow, the No. 1 Wild Card team (today) in the West.
That, of course, has as much to do with Maurice’s leadership as it does with the brilliance of five outstanding forwards (Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers), two terrific defensemen (Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk) and a goaltender (Connor Hellebuyck) who has often been unbeatable.
This Jets team should not be a playoff contender. Full stop. After Dustin Byfuglien pulled his I’m-going-to-retire stunt long after free-agent day had come and gone and long after Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev, Ben Chiarot and Byfuglien himself were also gone, this team should have been finished. The Jets defense was ravaged and yet Maurice somehow kept things together.
Later, after injuries to Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry and Josh Morrissey kept the four regulars out of the lineup for multiple-weeks (Little will be out until next season, at least), this team should have been finished again. Yet Maurice still kept the Jets together. Somehow, he coaxed, cajoled and convinced this team to keep winning, despite all the free-agent defections, injuries and a terrible January slump.
Fact is, if the Jets make the playoffs next month, Maurice should be the NHL’s Coach of the Year.
For those still upset by the Jets decision to keep Maurice, just remember that it’s been clear for ages that the organization wanted Maurice around for the long haul. And frankly, they were right. He’s been better at his job than anyone could possibly have expected or demanded.
“Priority 1 is you have a family and you want them to enjoy their lives as well,” Maurice said. “Winnipeg has given us so much more than we’ve given the city. For my kids, their friends, my wife as well, this is truly our home now. Being able to stay and work — I think we were staying one way or another — but being able to stay and work for the Winnipeg Jets is perfect.”
It’s perfect for the Jets, too.