With every Winnipeg Jets’ victory in early February, the screws tightened on about a half-dozen National Hockey League coaches.
Thanks a lot, Paul Maurice, said the coaches in Toronto, New Jersey, Long Island, Nashville, Vancouver and Phoenix and any other NHL city home to an underachieving club whose owners and fans had playoff visions dancing in their heads.
In January, you see, Maurice stepped into a quagmire that was the dysfunctional Jets’ organization following the firing of Claude Noel, and suddenly his team started to win. In the first 12 games under his guidance, the Jets won nine, a .750 winning percentage that would easily earn a playoff spot if carried through an entire season.
Broadcaster Don Cherry, for one, wasn’t surprised with the Jets’ quick turnaround. Players almost always rise to the occasion following a coach’s dismissal, he said, if only to ostensibly say to the general manager, "See, it was bad coaching all along, not bad playing".
As the NHL went on a three-week vacation thanks to the Olympic Games, the Jets found themselves a mere two points out of a playoff spot. Before Noel was given the boot, no one beyond the Jets’ organization or its fan club entertained the notion of earning a playoff berth.
One team at whose heels the Jets are nipping is the Vancouver Canucks, who were 2-8 in the 10 games leading into the Olympic break. You think Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis isn’t looking at the Jets’ quick turnaround under Maurice and wondering if similar success could occur if John Tortorella was axed?
Maurice isn’t exactly the second coming of Scotty Bowman, having missed the playoffs or been fired in 11 of his 15 seasons as an NHL bench boss. He coached nine seasons in Hartford/Carolina, guided the Toronto Maple Leafs for two seasons without making the playoffs and then was rehired for four seasons in Carolina, where he made the playoffs only once. Before the Jets hired him Jan. 12, he had been one of the analysts on TSN’s NHL coverage.
The analyst’s job is to let the world know you’re an expert and now Maurice is being given the chance to prove that behind the Jets’ bench.
So far, so good.
• Kirk Penton of Sunmedia, about the Blue Bombers off-season activity: “Sure, the acquisition of an import receiver like (Nick) Moore is nice and all, but it's more of a shiny accessory on a car whose engine is leaking oil and whose passenger door fell off three blocks ago.”
• Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald: “NBC aired a special on a Turkish prison camp. Wait, that was actually a luxury hotel room in Sochi. My mistake.”
• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “A Saskatoon shopkeeper says Canadian authorities have banned imported products such as Marmite and Ovaltine because they pose a health risk. While they were at it, they banned watching the Buffalo Sabres.”
• Dickson, again, on Yankee Stadium hosting an outdoor NHL game: “Idea: Keep the penalty box and make A-Rod sit there all next season.”
• Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle: “In answer to the question of many readers: Yes! When the Dodgers and Diamondbacks open the season in Australia, runners will run the bases clockwise.”
• Bill Littlejohn, on the appearance by a man decked out in 49er gear at the Seahawks victory parade: “He was clearly trying to get on ESPN. It’s more likely he’ll be on the cover of Psychiatric Times.”
• TC Chong, on curvy Kevin Stadler winning the Waste Management Open in Phoenix: “Shouldn’t it have been named the Waist Mismanagement Open?”
• Cam Hutchinson of the Saskatchewan Express: “Funeral and casket companies are setting up displays in malls. In late April a display will be set up in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room.”
• Brad Rock of the Deseret News: “A couple in Alabama has named its daughter Krimson Tide. Is this a ‘Bama thing, or can fans plan on a baby named Thundering Herd showing up in West Virginia?”
• Janice Hough of leftcoastsportsbabe.com: “Wonder if at this point Roger Goodell is wishing the Saints had put out a bounty on Richie Incognito?”
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Question: What do you get when you cross a NASCAR race with the Winter Olympics? Answer: Billybobsledding!”
• Another one from Dickson: “During every Winter Olympics, people reflect on the Miracle on Ice, which, for me, was that time I drove to work in 16 inches of snow in my Ford Maverick.”
• Comedy writer Jim Barach: “Yankee Derek Jeter has announced he will retire at the end of the 2014 season. He would have quit before the year but just wants to enjoy going through an entire season without having Alex Rodriguez on the team.”
• Another one from RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “I can't help wondering if the Islanders' Michael Grabner takes a lot of holding penalties.”
• Headline at SportsPickle.com: “Bob Costas essay rips Vladimir Putin for human-rights abuses, failure to fund pinkeye research.”