Sports teach (or at least re-emphasize) many lessons about human nature, but the way people perceive failure - or even perceived failure - amazes and entrances me as much as anything else.
As they also say with real estate, it’s frequently about location.
When a team is terrible or even just arguably mismanaged in a hockey hotbed like Toronto, every stretch of defeats and victories evoke reactions that are melodramatic. Conversely, the Panthers can be mediocre or even awful in Florida for a decade without most people batting an eye; the team has been downright laughable for most of its existence yet the team’s mostly unquestioned finances have only been pondered rather irregularly (including now, though one can only wonder if that story was floated merely for the powers that be to could beg for more money).
On one hand, you have the live-or-die fare for Montreal and other frenzied markets; on the other, there are perennial duds who only make headlines when their futility prompts relocation speculation from frenzied hockey markets.
(Seriously, has any other sports franchises received as many “mulligans” as the Coyotes? And by “mulligans” I mean executives forcing them back to life like Frankenstein’s monster.)
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
The Winnipeg Jets are an interesting case study because without having truly intimate knowledge of the area or the team’s fans, I’d say they experience a weird mix of the broad divide that separates many NHL franchises.
As far as I can tell, the market is small enough (literally) that they can relate to small-money franchises, particularly those in “nontraditional markets.” On the other hand, the team doesn't seem to struggle to fill the seats as the city celebrates the return of the Jets. So there seems to be a dichotomy at work here, which can make certain things trickier to figure.
The Jets are a flawed bunch, yet there's talent there and potentially more to be discovered. Adding a guy right as he’s about to become relevant is a big goal from the Hockey Dose’s aims, so we'll see if any answers are apparent.
Let’s ponder how the change from Claude Noel to Paul Maurice may affect fantasy … while acknowledging that clarity will be greater as he gets more than one game under his belt.
PAVELEC VS. MONTOYA VS. RELEVANCE
There are plenty of arguments regarding why the baton has been passed from Noel to Maurice, but I would venture that the Jets franchise’s gravest error has been to count upon shaky (at best) starter Ondrej Pavelec. Really, his failings have provided strong evidence to the argument that it’s better to seek out flexibility in net (or at least acknowledge unpredictability) rather than just settling for the questionable yet familiar.
But deeper team-building discussions aside, Pavelec has been hot garbage.
So, the big question is then: “How will Maurice use his goalies?”
It’s an interesting one, too, as self-interest may push the two-time former Carolina Hurricanes head coach more than one way:
-- He likely hopes to remove “interim” from his new title as interim head coach. Does that mean he goes with the moderately warm hand (Al Montoya) or the one that’s frozen solid in Pavelec?
-- There’s likely some organizational pressure to play Pavelec, as Maurice’s new boss Kevin Cheveldayoff is the one who handed Pavelec the erroneous contract extension.
-- Yet there’s also the fresh set of eyes factor: will Maurice simply believe that Pavelec is better than Montoya and reset the rotation accordingly?
Now, winning the top goalie job in Winnipeg is sort of like being the world heavyweight champion of a professional wrestling company that can’t even get on TV, but maybe that perception will change if Maurice can help coach them to a solid level (up from merely mediocre).
MORE PLAYERS TO CONSIDER
Dustin Byfuglien - Under almost every conceivable condition beyond the message-sending healthy scratch, big Buff should be a big contributor. It’s honestly kind of hilarious that Noel was fired before the moving Byfuglien back to forward experiment played itself out. That D to F move would at least add some credibility to his rare D/F designation, but I’m not so sure he’ll produce at the same level. (He’ll at least lose out on TOI.) Longer term, Maurice could really be anti-Byfuglien and even push to get the big American traded.
All things considered, "Buffy the Hamburger Slayer" should be fine, though. (Maurice didn't switch course and put him back at D right away, but we'll see how that plays out.)
Evander Kane - One way or another, the budding power forward's numbers should improve. That's not necessarily because Noel is out of the picture, though; he's been scoring more lately in general and should get better puck luck than the 8.5 shooting percentage he has this season.
Olli Jokinen - The Finnish forward has been respectable enough, as his 29 points puts him fifth among Winnipeg scorers. He is just one point behind Andrew Ladd and ahead of Kane (25), Mark Scheifele (24) and Devin Setoguchi (21). That's not bad since he's only averaging 16:32 TOI per game ... what if Maurice decides to put him on the ice more often?
Mark Scheifele - Speaking of guys Maurice might like better, maybe Scheifele will take off* as some hoped? To some extent, that maturation has already taken place; Scheifele has 19 of his 24 points from this season in the last 24 games.
Devin Setoguchi - The feeling has been that just about everyone landed in Noel's doghouse at some point - that's what can happen with an outspoken head coach on a middling squad - but few inhabited that doghouse as often as Setoguchi. Don't expect him to reach the heights he enjoyed in San Jose (a career-high of 31 goals and 65 points in 2008-09), but maybe he can at least flirt with the 20-goal-type pace he normally enjoys season-to-season with a clean slate.
While Maurice isn’t my first choice for Jets head coach (*cough* Peter Laviolette *cough cough*), he could still be a good fit. It remains to be seen what kind of lasting impact he’ll make compared to Noel, but even a short-term boost (Winnipeg won in his debut on Monday) could be lucrative for fantasy owners. So stay tuned.
* - Jets joke, hooray.