The Winnipeg Jets are ending a four-game "Jets Versus Nature" stand, staring down the Flames, the Hurricanes, then the Lightning, and now the Avalanche. The Jets have fared even worse than the Avs so far this year, with a 2-5-0 record that leaves them last in the Central.
Both teams have only won two games, though the Avalanche have managed to take two into overtime. They have also played one more game as of this writing, although by the time both teams square off their records will be at eight games apiece.
Suffice to say, neither team has started out the gate quite like they wanted to this season.
In spite of the similarities, the Avalanche and the Jets' coaches seem to be handling their less-than-impressive first few weeks in markedly different ways. I'm going to take a look at some of the key differences at Patrick Roy and Paul Maurice's reactions to the 2014-15 season so far:
Patrick Roy's Optimism in the Face of Back to Back Shutouts & More:
If you haven't heard that Patrick Roy is the Avs' new head coach, you might actually be dead, but to recap just in case: Roy led the team to a record-breaking 112 point season and a playoff berth. This netted him a Jack Adams award and made him even more of a fan favourite than he was already going to be by virtue of just Being Patrick Roy. His first NHL season was an overwhelming success.
Coach Roy has the exact same reputation as Player Roy in that he's widely regarded as temperamental, perhaps a bit of a hothead, and when the Avs began the 2014-15 season by being shut out in back to back games, many fans and media alike speculated that Roy might blow his top in all sorts of interesting ways.
However, Roy remained more or less calm in his postgame interviews, even after cringeworthy losses. He continued to highlight things that he thought the team was doing right, saying that he liked their performance even in games where the team failed to score a single goal, such as their October 11th loss to Minnesota:
"The goals will come. ... Five-on-five we were the best team on the ice."
He's never been the type to be dishonest about what the team was doing wrong, but his optimism in the face of the team's losing start was starting to make some people wonder. Was he in denial?
This attitude combined with Roy and now-GM Joe Sakic's decision to extend aging defenseman Brad Stuart to a two-year contract extension before he'd even played a single game in an Avalanche sweater made a lot of people wonder if the Avalanche's front office had its head in the clouds due to one impressive season.
Roy drove home the point about the "lack of panic," even after the team's two starting goaltenders were both sidelined with injuries, Semyon Varlamov with a groin strain and Reto Berra suffering a potential head or neck injury in the opening minutes of the team's October 16th game against the Ottawa Senators. The AHL Lake Erie Monsters' goaltender, Calvin Pickard, was called up to serve as replacement, with the Monsters' Sami Aittokallio serving as his backup.
Roy criticised the team's lack of pressure and lack of defensive awareness, and while he was sometimes terse, the worst he said was that the team "didn't play well," such as in this October 18th postgame interview after the team's 3-2 loss to the Habs.
The team struggled to improve, but Roy remained optimistic in his interactions with media. At what point would his optimism and confidence begin to look like delusion, denial and a refusal to acknowledge hard truths?
By listening to Roy's interviews on the subject, you get the sense that while he has some frustrations, he seems to think it's only a matter of time before his team is riding the high water mark of the Central Division once again. This confidence will likely buoy his players, especially on the back of a 7-2 win, and if the Avalanche can string a few wins together, that might be the confidence booster they need to fully right the ship and make a run for the top of the standings.
Normally Calm & Collected Paul Maurice Showing Signs of Stress:
Conversely, Winnipeg's head coach Paul Maurice has been in the news for being essentially the anti-Patrick-Roy: he's normally calm and level-headed. Absolutely nobody expected his recent outburst, where he told CBC's Jeff Hamilton that, "I could make you cry in that fucking room."
The remark stemmed from Hamilton raising a question about accountability in the locker room, specifically that it "wasn't necessarily the players' jobs to keep other teammates accountable."
Maurice interrupted him with the following:
It's not the players' job to tell you about it.
They don't have to come out here and open this book up to you and tell you everything that goes on in the room. I could make you cry in that fucking room.
Listen, I understand that you have to work with what you're given and I appreciate that. But the accountability in the room is fine, we deal with our problems directly.
The normally-congenial Maurice apologised almost immediately for his usage of profanity, but the quote made headlines. Was the pressure in Winnipeg getting to him? The Jets have yet to make the playoffs since relocating to Winnipeg. Who should be held accountable?
The fact that Maurice was mad enough to "start cussing" (Winnipeg Free Press) was taken as a signal that there are stress fractures in the team's foundation. The media are pressing Maurice and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff about what exactly is going to be done to address the team's failings.
But one important detail that people seem to be forgetting is that Maurice only took over as Jets head coach midway through the 2013-14 season. Is it fair to level this degree of criticism on a coach who has only just stepped into an organisation already wrought with difficulties?
Paul Maurice is an experienced head coach, entering into his seventeenth NHL season in the position. It would have been his eighteenth, but he spent the 2012-13 lockout season coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL. Of those seasons, he's reached the NHL postseason four times and the KHL postseason once. His postseason appearances include the 2001-02 Stanley Cup Finals during which his Carolina Hurricanes lost to the Detroit Red Wings. Maurice has coached the Hurricanes, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his first two seasons were spent behind the bench for the Hartford Whalers.
If I have not yet gotten the point across: he has a diverse and experienced coaching résumé. Opinions on him are varied: most Leafs fans don't blame him at all for his two frustrating seasons with them. Whalers fans are bitter about him and still see him as an instrumental piece of the team's downfall.
Maurice has been recently bombarded with questions about whether his team "lacks confidence" and is feeling "fragile," as seen in the earlier minutes of his infamous October 20th video interview. Based on the questions the media ask him, you can practically see the expectations being levelled on him. He has good things to say about the leadership qualities of his young players such as Jacob Trouba and Mark Scheifele while reiterating themes of responsibility and teamwork.
In this October 24th pre-game interview, Maurice was asked when he would "lose his patience."
While Maurice as head coach is certainly expected to shoulder a share of the blame when his team does poorly, you could argue that he's likely doing the best he can with the team given to him, especially considering he has yet to even coach them for a full season. This is a Jets team whose GM, Kevin Cheveldayoff, is frequently criticised for his unwillingness or inability to retain quality players. The same team suffering through a drought of goaltending talent that's led to them using Ondrej Pavelec as a starting goaltender.
The Winnipeg Jets are not doing so hot, but that is hardly Paul Maurice's sole responsibility.
Similar Records, Opposing Attitudes:
So there you have it: a tale of two coaches. Both of their teams failed to make the playoffs for three years in a row, the Avs from 2010-11 and the Jets from 2011-12. The primary difference maker is of course last season, which saw the Avalanche win the Central Division and the Jets finish dead last in it. You have the coach with a reputation for being hot under the collar who's taking a losing October relatively in stride. And you have the coach with a reputation for weathering storms with an even keel making the headlines for dropping f-bombs.
Personally, I feel like judging Maurice for his media comments alone is harsh. People are right when they say that the Jets need a culture of accountability and responsibility, but Maurice also has a reputation for doing just that, especially in Toronto.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if Patrick Roy's optimism in his young team turns out to be well-placed confidence or willful self-delusion if his team takes the elevator to the NHL's basement. He and Maurice both believe in their teams and express that belief in different ways.
The same media that is starting to pressure Maurice were the folks who said Roy's winning season in 2013-14 was just a fluke. A cursory glance around the internet or through a magazine suggests the Avalanche are widely expected to regress this year. The Jets are expected to have another losing season.
So it looks like in spite of their differences in attitude and their team's differing records last year, neither coach can win when it comes to the media.
The 2014-15 season is young. Both the Avalanche and the Jets have plenty of time to sort their respective shit out. And it will be interesting to see how they fare when trying to sort it out while facing off against one another.