Final Pre-season Games Big For Claude Noel

Claude Noel And The Winnipeg Jets Have A Big Challenge Ahead —

So, I got a text late on Tuesday night from my cousin.  The first words out of his mouth, or, um, stamped by his fingers are “Give a guy a blog and he turns into Gary Lawless… ”

Man, my cousin doesn’t waste any time.  Of course, I don’t HAVE a blog.  I just contribute to this great blog which is a different thing altogether.  That’s a lot different than being the lead sport columnist over at the Free Press  although there might be other comparisons between Lawless and I that people might draw.  (Gary, you really should unblock me on Twitter).

But, I was still suitably impressed that he has been reading what I write even though his criticism was related to something I had tweeted.  Of course. I was suitably impressed though.  I mean, I’ve been under the impression for years that this guy can’t even read so that was a pleasant surprise.

What exactly was my cuz taking umbrage with (I think in all my years of writing that is the first time I used the term umbrage in anything)?  Well, I had suggested on Twitter that these last two preseason games, one of which I’ll be seeing in Saskatoon on Friday, would go a long way to determining the future of the Jets’ much beloved head coach Claude Noel.

Now, my cousin and I get to gabbing about hockey every time we talk.  I do respect his opinion even if it is often different than mine.  I mean, he is one of the great hockey minds of . . . well, he is one of the hockey minds of our time.  He offers tremendous insight and commentary.  Our conversations last season often drifted to Dustin Byfuglien.  I’d offer praise for his on-ice results even with my frustration at his consistent unpredictability.  Cuz’s thoughtful and verbose response was something like “He’s a slug. ”

And once again, we had to agree to disagree on the topic of Claude Noel while both having some optimism about what lies ahead.  But, I stick by my point.  More specifically, I firmly believe that what Noel does with potential second line centre Mark Scheifele in these last two preseason games will likely dictate Noel’s future.

Mark Sheifele_Jets-Wild-2

Mark Scheifele     Images by Shawn Coates

For whatever reason, Claude Noel just has refused to fully get behind Scheifele.  He has seemed slow to praise and quick to suggest the Scheif needs to do more.  At the same time, Noel has handcuffed him by giving him precious few opportunities to shine.  Scheifele has spent much of the preseason playing with at least one “slug”on his lines, to use my kin’s vocabulary.  Meanwhile, when given the chance to shine, Scheifele centered Evander Kane and Devon Setoguchi in the opener in Belleville against Washington and that line’s performance was arguably the Jets best of the preseason.

At the same time, Noel seems to be Olli Jokinen’s biggest fan in Winnipeg.  Like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, coach appears to be giving Jokinen every opportunity possible to earn that second-line centre role.  He hasn’t.  Now with two games left, Noel has the opportunity to hand Scheifele the reins and let him run free, er, skate free, on ice surfaces across the continent with a prize thoroughbred on his left side and someone pretty decent on his right.

Noel has a chance to do what he seemingly has refused to do until now.  Build/instill/express confidence in the young center and encourage him to go out and play his game.  With Noel’s one year contract extension, you’d think hitching his star to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s prized first-ever first round pick would be a good way to increase his job security.

This isn’t to say Scheifele should get a free pass.  He’s got to earn the role each and every night.  He has to start scoring some goals.  He has to find that chemistry on the KiSS (Kane, Scheifele, Setoguchi) line and he has to win faceoffs and play tough against what is certain to be some solid opponents.  At the same time, it might be the best thing for Jokinen too.  While hard on the pride, a third line role would lower expectations and allow him to play his game and not worry about forcing results.

Now, if Claude Noel sticks with his stubbornness and refuses to invest in Scheifele and forces the second line from Kiss to KaOS (Kane, Olli, Setoguchi), I believe there is a good chance Noel will pay the price.  I think most observers agree that Jokinen and Kane just don’t go together.  The duo never really clicked last season and there has been nothing this preseason to suggest otherwise.

I’m not suggesting that coach would be fired in November after a bad October but I’m also not convinced he’d the get entire season if things go south.  My cousin is firmly entrenched in the position that Noel gets the entire season and if the playoffs are missed that he’ll be done.  Well, I think if Noel doesn’t start to show/build some confidence in Scheifele soon the playoffs will be missed.

Noel has become a bit of a target for some disgruntled fans.  Some of it came last season over player usage but it really seems to be a growing trend among fans this preseason.  I have been a Noel booster until recently but my concern has grown into doubt.  And that disappoints me because I like a lot about the guy.  He’s engaging and entertaining and seems pretty down to Earth.  A good fit in the Winnipeg market.

So, I guess it all boils down to who is the smarter family member; me or cuz.  He is firmly entrenched atop one of the most successful high end flooring companies in Winnipeg with a beautiful wife he met in an airport and a great family. (I am convinced she must have a mammoth fear of flying and he swooped in and took advantage of her anxious fear and before she had her bearings again he had moved her to Winnipeg and they were married.  By then it was too late.)  Meanwhile, I’m 40, single and unemployed.

Well, we’ll see. I sent him a text letting him know he’d be mentioned in my piece.  All l I got was more encouragement!  He called me a “crackpot” for wanting to change coaches over a second line center and wondered why I’m not blaming Noel for Byfuglien not winning the Norris Trophy yet.

Ah, family.  I can’t be too hard on the guy as he even gave my bratty little sister a job (she’s almost 33).  And these are the types of family drama that the return of the Jets to Winnipeg have created across this great land.  But make no mistake, I firmly believe these next two preseason games will go a long way in determining Noel’s future in the Winnipeg Jets family.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t end up being the black sheep.



  1. I agree with you about Coach Claude. If things don’t go well I don’t think he’ll be here all season, either. I also like him for the exact reasons you mention so I do hope things turnaround. Not holding my breath.

  2. Mitch Kasprick says

    Your cuz seems like a pretty smart guy … LOL

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