Paul Maurice on paused NHL season, Dustin Byfuglien and what the Jets are doing in isolation

Like every hockey fan in town, Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is at home, waiting to see if the NHL‘s 2019-20 season resumes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maurice told 680 CJOB’s Sports Show that despite social distancing, there’s still a lot he and the other coaches can do from the comfort of their own homes.

“You’re not running a bench and you’re not running a practice, but almost everything else you do is based off a computer because we have access to all analytics and all video from across the league, as we do all year, so nothing has changed,” he said.

“All the things that you talk about in a coach’s room during the season … you really don’t have very much time to go through them because you have another game, another practice — you’re kind of constantly on the move.

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“We have a bunch of ideas we’ve been following for a while and now we’ve kind of split those ideas up, and each coach is grinding through the video.”

If and when the NHL decides to take the season off pause, the Jets’ bench is going to look a little different.

Assistant coach Todd Woodcroft has moved on, accepting a head coaching gig at the University of Vermont, and while Maurice said he’s received resumes to fill the job, he’s not expecting to bring on a permanent replacement for Woodcroft if the season resumes.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets assistant coach accepts head coaching gig at University of Vermont

Todd Woodcroft.
Todd Woodcroft. Winnipeg Jets

“What Todd is, he’s kind of a good example of the next age of coaches,” said Maurice.

“He’s an incredibly caring human being — he’s somebody that really reaches out in the room.

“I think, for college kids … he’s gonna be a really good mentor for people that continue to play hockey and also join the working world as citizens of their towns.”

Maurice said that with the American Hockey League’s season also a question mark, there’s the potential of bringing up a coach from the Manitoba Moose to fill in for Woodcroft — likely Pascal Vincent, who has served as an assistant coach for the Jets in the past.

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One of the biggest remaining questions about the potential to resume NHL play is figuring out the logistics — particularly around playing games without an in-person audience due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Maurice said he experienced something similar in the late ’90s as a coach for the Carolina Hurricanes when a freak snowstorm resulted in only a handful of fans making it out to the arena.

“It’s shocking how much more you hear without fans. It’s kind of like the night sky without clouds … but (when) you have the actual intensity of an NHL game, there’s a whole lot of conversations that nobody would want out there,” he said.

“They’ll come up with some kind of ambient noise, maybe they’ll have canned cheering or something … they’ll figure out a way that you won’t hear every word said … I hope.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus — Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor is hopeful the NHL season is completed

Maurice said he’s been in touch with the Jets players individually throughout the pandemic, talking to them about their conditioning, how they’re feeling about the crisis and what they’ve been up to during this unprecedented free time.

“One guy on our team — I’m not gonna use any names — but he has a driving range in his living room,” Maurice said.

“One guy’s wife started a candle-making company. I got two or three guys that are doing some home improvements. I’ve got a few guys with kids that are fully appreciating their elementary school teachers in a way they haven’t before.”

Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien celebrates after scoring during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series against the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis on April 14, 2019. The Winnipeg Jets and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien have agreed to a mutual contract termination, bringing an end to a strained relationship between the team and a former face of the franchise. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association made the announcement Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jeff Roberson.
Winnipeg Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien celebrates after scoring during the third period in Game 3 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series against the St. Louis Blues in St. Louis on April 14, 2019. The Winnipeg Jets and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien have agreed to a mutual contract termination, bringing an end to a strained relationship between the team and a former face of the franchise. The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association made the announcement Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jeff Roberson.

One of the biggest challenges for the team was playing without all-star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, whose status with the team was a big question mark for most of the season.

Byfuglien hadn’t played a game for the Jets — or any team — since April 2019, and speculating on his future role, if any, with the Jets generated a lot of rumours and discussion all season.

The Byfuglien era in Winnipeg officially ended in mid-April, with player and team mutually agreeing to terminate his contract.

Maurice said the decision by the big blueliner was initially a surprise but that Byfuglien had been honest about his intentions with the team from the beginning.

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READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets and Dustin Byfuglien officially part ways

“It was a unique situation, much like Dustin Byfuglien (himself). Dustin kind of walked in one day, and he said he didn’t want to play hockey at this time. And that was honest, and it never really changed, and everybody has the right to do it,” said Maurice.

“I sat down with him probably 2-3 days after that original announcement and when he got up and left, I thought, ‘This guy’s at peace with it. He’s not conflicted by this, he’s not fighting himself over it. In his heart, he doesn’t feel like he wants to play right now.’

“He’s an honest guy who could not muster up the excitement and enthusiasm to play in the NHL and he didn’t want to lie to anyone about it.”

Outside of hockey, Maurice said he hasn’t become bored quite yet during the pandemic, although he’s been watching a lot of YouTube videos.

“I can fall down any kind of rabbit hole on YouTube … and it interests the hell out of me,” he said.

“I can find a lot of foolish things to keep me busy.

“You’re just trying to make the best of a tough situation.”

Paul Maurice on how he’s spending his time social distancing

Paul Maurice on how he’s spending his time social distancing

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