By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck
This off-season is shaping up to be the most interesting for the Winnipeg Jets since their return in 2011. An unsigned coach, a rumoured want-away 22-year-old and a No. 1 goaltender that couldn’t stop a nosebleed this year. The time is nigh.
Since Paul Maurice arrived in Winnipeg back in January, questions and rumours of his future with the organization have swirled. Will he stay? Will he go? Having seemingly turned his players from diffident to confident in half a season, Mo has fans and players wanting more.
“In terms of mentally, it got our groove going, it gave us new life,” said Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd on Maurice’s arrival. “I think it was big for a lot of guys, it seems we were stuck in a rut at that point and we needed something to get us going.
“Paul did a great job of coming in and he had the attention of our group. As a group we did a great job of really following what he was trying to preach and doing the right things.
“I want him back. I think he is a great coach and a great mind and really good for this group. Everyone in this group loves to play for him.”
The feeling is certainly mutual, however Maurice did add a caveat.
“I want to be the coach of the Winnipeg Jets next year,” said Maurice in his last presser of the season on Sunday.
“This has nothing to do with Winnipeg, it’s if I can move them (family) again — I promised them I wouldn’t do it to them again. I need to be sitting with them when we talk about it.”
Accountability has been an area Maurice has looked to improve upon and a theme players have undoubtedly took to heart.
“That’s kind of a tricky word,” said Blake Wheeler, “it’s an easy one to throw out there. At the beginning of every year every team says ‘we need to be accountable to one another’ but to what extent?
“That’s an area that if we improve it is going to make us a better hockey team.”
Ladd suggests Maurice is the right guy to lead that movement.
“The thing about Paul is that he takes the grey area out of everything, it’s black and white.”
Accountability is one thing, sure, but perhaps even more pressing for the Jets is what is happening between the pipes.
Ondrej Pavelec had a dreadful year in the crease for the Jets. His .901 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average are a personal worst since moving to Winnipeg and his overall play has fans clamoring for a buyout.
“It wasn’t easy, that is for sure,” said the Czech Olympian, reflecting on the season that was. “But you’re a hockey player, it’s things that you have to deal with, you have no choice.”
Pavelec says the offseason will be important for his game going forward.
“Looking for a busy summer,” said Pavelec. “I have to change something for sure. I got to come back and be ready to go.
Meanwhile, with talk of a trade away from Winnipeg lingering in the air, Evander Kane preferred to talk about the team and the disappointment of it all.
“I was a tough year, obviously, personally and as a team,” Kane said. “The injuries and us having a good shot after the Olympic break to make the playoffs and not following through on that. That was probably the toughest part.”