Noel getting to know Jets, just as fans are
The event was incredible. The results on the ice were merely an afterthought for the many who broke open their proverbial piggy banks to attend the first regular season game of the Jets 2.0. The Habs scored early, and eventually scored quite often, against a Winnipeg group that looked its age, or lack thereof.
Many aspects of the team’s play raised cause for concern for fans who had yet to see their favourite team play against a fully loaded NHL roster.
It is that unfamiliarity with the team’s personnel, which may have set the team fanbase up for disappointment.
Plainly, this team needs work—or more specifically, more talent. That being said, Sunday’s performance was a not a strong presentation by the team’s forwards, defenders or goaltenders. This team is not going to play as poorly as it did last night very often.
What may have been most telling of the long road ahead were Claude Noel’s decisions behind the bench. He was using any number of players in different situations. In fact, every single Winnipeg Jets skater logged some time on both the power play and the penalty kill. Think about that for a second (and a couple of those players only played a few seconds in those special teams roles), generally teams have set power play units and set penalty kill units. Players specifically know their roles and prepare accordingly.
However, Noel knows very little about this team.
Comparatively speaking, look at Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, Mike Babcock in Detroit or Barry Trotz in Nashville. Those three head bosses have played a significant part in the formation of their respective team’s roster. They know their player talent on the ice better than anyone and generally use training camp and the pre-season not to evaluate Todd Bertuzzi or Daniel Cleary, but to evaluate newcomers like Ian White and youngsters like Jakub Kindl. Their experience with the team affords them the opportunity to focus specifically on certain players knowing full well what the rest of the roster is capable of.
Claude Noel does not have that same luxury. In many ways, he is trying to learn in a few weeks what his contemporary on Sunday afternoon, Jacques Martin, has learned in a few years.
Some may counter the above by stating that new coaches come in an out of jobs all the time. Sure, that is the case, but this franchise has new management and new assistant coaches, not to mention a new city. Meaning, everyone is learning on the fly.
How can Kevin Cheveldayoff tell Claude Noel the limits and psychology behind a player like Alexander Burmistrov when he is just trying to get to know him himself? Noel needs to see which players can kill penalties—as this team’s penalty kill has been awful for the past few seasons. He needs to see who can play on the power play and whether Andrew Ladd can play the point or not.
With time, Noel will become more comfortable with his bench and shorten it to more accurately reflect each player’s talent. For now, however, he will afford many players opportunities to play in sometimes familiar and sometimes unfamiliar roles. This is a learning experience for everyone, making patience an important tool through the first few weeks of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg.