I sense we are about to witness an eruption —
I say that because Claude Noel isn’t having a whole lot of fun. He’s got that pained, “Oh, no, not-another-root-canal” look.
There’s no buoyancy to his answers during his to-and-fro sessions with news scavengers. Whereas the Winnipeg Jets coach once was flippant, flat-out funny and the star of Sports Centre on TSN, he’s now delivering a lot of “Yup” and “Nope” answers. He’s bored and borderline confrontational.
We saw a brief glimpse of this at the back end of last season when, on the heels of a paddy-whacking from the Washington Capitals, he dipped into the surliness sauce after some poor sap had the bad manners to ask the “dumbest question the the world.” Coach Claude didn’t stop there, either. His follow-up insult was, “If you can’t come up with somethin’ better than that, you’re hurtin’. I’m hurtin’.”
Well, yes, there was a whole lot of hurtin’ going on back then, and there’s been a whole lot of hurtin’ this National Hockey League season.
I mean, when there’s a healthy degree of glee after you allow a point to slip away in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Capitals, it’s safe to say your universe isn’t unfolding as it should.
Which is why I suggest we’ll soon see an eruption of Mount St. Claude.
Trust me, he’s going to go all volcanic any day now, because he can feel his seat getting warmer as the losses add up and he edges ever so close to the unemployment line.
Unlike others, I’m not promoting the ouster of Coach Claude. That will arrive in due course without any prodding from me. One of these fine Manitoba mornings, Kevin Cheveldayoff will awaken and it will dawn on him that he is the only general manager out of 30 GMs who believed Noel would make a fine head coach for an NHL team. He’ll then begin to talk to himself.
“Self,” he’ll say, “what was I thinking? Twenty-nine other general managers wouldn’t want Claude Noel as their head coach, so why did I? Oh, wait. Now I remember. Claude coached the Manitoba Moose, so Mark Chipman insisted he had to be the head coach because everyone who ever worked for the Moose got a job with the Jets. Even the mascot, Craig Heisinger. Oh, that’s not right. Zinger isn’t the mascot. He’s one of my assistants and Mick E. Moose is the mascot. I always get those two mixed up. Whatever, I’ve got to do something about this coaching situation.”
He’ll then relieve Coach Claude of his torment, give him some nice parting gifts and hire someone who doesn’t have “worked for Manitoba Moose” on his resume.
There’s no other way for this situation to play out. Coach Claude’s Jets just flubbed the most favorable portion of their schedule, with eight of their first 10 assignments at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. They’re 4-5-1 and there’s little to suggest they’ll be more successful while collecting per diem on their upcoming trek to Nashville, St. Paul, Denver and St. Louis.
The only option to the removal of Coach Claude is a trade of impact. There are a few problems with that: 1) Seven of the Jets core players have no-trade/no movement clauses in their contracts; 2) Cheveldayoff believes in his core group, otherwise he wouldn’t have provided them with such high-salaried compensation and contracts that extend another four, five, six and seven seasons; 3) other GMs might not agree that those contracts are worth taking on.
It’s interesting to note that Evander Kane is not among the players with a no trade/no movement element to his five-year deal (capgeek.com). He’d be the most marketable and easiest of the core players to move and, although Cheveldayoff would demand a king’s ransom in barter for his best and most dynamic performer, he’d surely find an obliging suitor. Don’t expect that to happen, though.
Thus, the fall guy will be Coach Claude. Bet on it.