The biggest news in the NHL this weekend had to be the changes made by the Winnipeg Jets, and frankly it's hard to be surprised. When Claude Noel was fired as coach Sunday morning and replaced with Paul Maurice it was the culmination of what had been a very difficult first half of the season for Winnipeg. And if you watched Noel's press conference after the Jets lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 6-3, Saturday night, you probably saw the writing on the wall.
It was one of those news conferences where the coach was very honest. He said the Jets had lost their confidence, that they weren't a good team right now and they could barely pass the puck. Those are not the things that happen in a winning organization and this is a tough business. Success in the NHL is judged on wins and losses, and this is a team that has spent some money locking up its core players with little to show for it. Winnipeg had gotten to the point where something had to change, and this was the change general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and the front office decided to make.
The amazing thing about the move is that if you look at Winnipeg's talent level, that team is stacked. Jacob Trouba is a stud, Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien are both solid defensemen and Tobias Enstrom is back there too. That's four good defensemen right there. But even with those guys and some solid forwards like Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little, this team just hasn't meshed and hasn't played as well as we might have expected. If that's happening halfway through the season someone has to pay the price, and apparently Noel was that someone.
The good news for the Jets, though, is Maurice is a great choice to take over. They're crazy if they think the team is going to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs just because Maurice is the coach now, but he has the expectations of showing an improvement, changing the culture there and getting that team confident again. That's something I think he can do. Maurice has had success in the past taking over teams midseason -- just look at what he did in Carolina in 2009 -- and he's a good, professional coach. He'll be able to make that team compete every night and get them optimistic for 2014-15. He will also know how to handle the media because he's coached before in Toronto, where the press is as tough as it is anywhere. He's been under the microscope, he can handle it and he can get this team playing well again.
Maurice is a safe choice, but he's also a smart choice and he makes sense for this team right now.
THE TROUBLE WITH MARTY
As the season continues on, the New Jersey Devils' goalie situation is getting more interesting. Cory Schneider has started to get the majority of the starts lately, and it's clear to me this team wants him to take over as the No. 1 goalie, but for whatever reason the Devils just don't seem to score as much when he's in net. I believe that over the second half of this season, the Devils will give Schneider every opportunity to take over as the full-time goalie because Martin Brodeur can't play forever (although I'm beginning to wonder at this point), but if the team struggles, New Jersey may not be able to afford that. Points are so important in the playoff race that you can't risk a three or four-game losing streak so the team gets comfortable with Schneider in net.
While having a succession plan in place is important for New Jersey, this whole situation was going to be tough to handle from the start. Marty deserves to be handled with the utmost respect, and if he wants to come back in 2014-15, as long as he realizes Schneider is the No. 1 goaltender, I think it will be fine. I hope that's what happens. I want Marty to retire as a New Jersey Devil simply because you just don't see one guy play his whole career with one team anymore. I don't want there to be any pictures of Brodeur in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
Still, I'm not sure Brodeur, arguably the greatest goaltender of all time, will want to accept a backup job if he's playing well enough that he can still start -- and this season, he's certainly played well enough to be a No. 1 goalie.
I think the Devils would like to move on. They gave up a lot to get Schneider and they got him to be the No. 1 and turn the corner to a new era, but there is a chance this could get nasty, and that's something everyone should avoid. The Devils want to do right by the greatest player in franchise history, and Marty wants to be remembered as an all-time great and not a superstar that hung on too long. It will be interesting to see how the Devils handle the Marty Brodeur situation, but it will also be interesting to see how Marty handles the Marty Brodeur situation.
The Boston Bruins just finished a west coast trip, and they might have been licking their wounds on the flight back. The Bruins went just 1-2-0 against three Western Conference heavyweights, but their lone win, a 1-0 victory over the struggling San Jose Sharks, pales next to their rough losses to the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings by a combined score of 9-4.
I think this trip gave people an idea of just how good the West is compared to the East. The Bruins are one of the dominant teams in the Eastern Conference this season, and they simply got beat up on this trip. After watching these games there's no reason to think the West isn't going to continue its dominance from this season and be the favored conference to win the Stanley Cup in June.
The most amazing game of that trip to me was when Boston visited L.A. because L.A. is basically the same team as Boston and stresses the exact same things: goaltending, defense, puck possession, not making mistakes and chip-and-chase hockey. I think the Kings are the closest thing to the Bruins in the West, and they totally out-Bostoned Boston. They looked tougher, they played better defensively, they had better goaltending. It was an eye-opener and the Kings weren't even playing that well at the time. If the rest of the East saw that they had to just shake their heads and say, "I don't want to make that trip this season."
I do think this will ultimately help Boston, though. The Bruins will use these struggles as a wakeup call, and it'll give them a real kick in the butt at the right time. They'll practice hard, they'll recommit because they were embarrassed and they'll use it as a good motivating factor. I'd be very surprised if we don't see Boston go on a little mini-winning streak before the Olympics.
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