WINNIPEG -- The honeymoon has ended for the Winnipeg Jets, and the building will begin.
General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff fired coach Claude Noel, replaced him with veteran NHL bench boss Paul Maurice, and began to outline the building process for his team Sunday. Cheveldayoff also dismissed assistant coach Perry Pearn.
In their first season in the Western Conference since NHL realignment, the Jets are 20-23-5 and last in the Central Division. The franchise has not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2007, when it was based in Atlanta. More recently, a five-game losing streak, which ended in a 5-1 win Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes in Maurice's debut, helped cost Noel his job and put the Jets 12 points behind the Stanley Cup Playoff line in the Western Conference.
The Jets began the season with high expectations. Cheveldayoff traded for veteran forwards Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi to strengthen his second and third lines. Although Frolik has succeeded in Winnipeg, Setoguchi has often been a healthy scratch and ended an 18-game goalless streak Monday.
Cheveldayoff signed goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to a five-year, $19.5 million contract in the summer of 2012, but Pavelec's play has stagnated in Winnipeg. His .899 save percentage ranks 42nd in the League, and his 3.08 goals-against average is 44th.
Maurice inherits many problems with the Jets, whose 2.96 goals-against average is 23rd in the League. The Jets have allowed 30.5 shots per game, 20thin that category, and the power play, a major weakness since last season, is 25th. The Jets needed more depth on the blue line, and the team's bottom-six forwards have struggled to generate any sort of offense.
"Sometimes you need these hard doses of reality to show that maybe you need to look at things more critically," Cheveldayoff said Sunday, a few hours after firing Noel. "Certainly, now we have to take a good, hard look at where we have to come from and where we have to go."
While Noel lost his job, Cheveldayoff and his players have also come under criticism in hockey-mad Winnipeg.
"All of us need to look and see how we can be better and where we would have done some things differently and not have [gotten] to this point," Cheveldayoff said.
Reaching and surpassing the .500 mark has been a challenge for the Jets all season, and Cheveldayoff recounted his discussions with Noel about the issue.
"We always asked ourselves internally when we chatted: 'Why .500?'" Cheveldayoff said.
Since taking the job in 2011, Cheveldayoff has emphasized a policy of keeping draft picks and developing young talent. Center Mark Scheifele, the seventh pick at the 2011 NHL Draft, and defenseman Jacob Trouba, who went ninth at the 2012 NHL Draft, are both contributing members of the Jets' roster this season.
Still, organizational depth remains an issue for the Jets, with most of their young prospects years away from possibly becoming full-time NHL players.
"We need to have a push from [the] St. John's [IceCaps, the Jets' American Hockey League affiliate]," Cheveldayoff acknowledged. "We need to get younger players in our system that push the NHL roster, that when there is stagnancy or something that is not working we can say, 'You know what? We're going to give this [prospect] a shot.'"
"We're excited about some of those kids (at St. John's), but they're not making impacts in the National Hockey League level yet," Cheveldayoff added.
Now that the Jets have made a coaching change, the players inside the Winnipeg dressing room could be Cheveldayoff's next targets.
"I'm not here to make promises that something will happen in X amount of time," Cheveldayoff said. "Obviously, [the coaching change] does send a message that this is an evaluation situation as well. We believe that we are underachieving. It's up to the players in some respects to show what they're all about. But at the end of the day, we have to take a long, hard look at what other steps there are to move forward."
"Will further changes have to be made over the course of time?" Cheveldayoff said. "Sure. It's just that now is the time to figure out what is going to be the best direction for those changes going forward."
Having a fresh perspective from a coach like Maurice, who now has 1,085 games of NHL coaching experience, is part of Cheveldayoff's plan for the future. Although Maurice only is under contract until the end of this season, Cheveldayoff indicated that he and and his new coach will discuss their plans for Maurice's future in Winnipeg as this season unfolds.
"[Maurice as] someone with a lot of experience will be valuable for us as we continue to evaluate what we have here and what changes in the future might be necessary," Cheveldayoff said.