The Winnipeg Jets Defensive System?

Is The Winnipeg Jets Defensive System New?

Or Is It Just Better Execution Of The Old System?

Or Do The Jets Have A System? 

I’ve been watching hockey long enough and heard enough post-game interviews from coaches and players alike to know that something fishy is going on in Jetsville.

Before we start don’t be fooled by rhetoric from talking heads on radio and tv about “buying into” or “learning”  new systems.  It’s all BS !!!  Most of these players have been playing the same defensive system since their bantam and midget hockey days.  Almost every team in the NHL plays a variance of the same defensive system … almost every team.  The major differences in system is more on the offensive side.  Every team has different variations on their fore-checking systems but most players adapt fairly quick to these schemes.  I’m going to deal with the defensive side here today but check out Kevin McCartney’s piece on fore-checking systems at  ☛ ☛ 

I’ve heard Winnipeg Jets Coach Claude Noel use some interesting lines in his tenure as Jets headcoach but my favorite is “we need to play the right way” or “we played the right way tonight”. The problem was I could never distinguish the difference.   What constituted the team playing the right way?  There is no way anybody can convince me that the Winnipeg Jets had any type of “shut down” plan or defensive system and/or I have never seen any evidence of players figuring it out on their own ….. until now !!!

When I say now, I’m talking about the last two- three weeks.  I have to admit I’ve caught glimpses of this phenomenon a couple of times and even pointed it out on Twitter to my buddy @nhl_campbell. I’ve been surprised by it and actually thought they were “getting it” but they would revert to their old ways and try to run and gun eventually losing.  Oh well, at least I swear I saw glimpses …. honest.

This “System” and/or execution of this system is no revelation.  It’s been going on in the Western Conference and the NHL for years in different ways but it’s no deep dark secret.

Like I mentioned earlier most teams play some sort of variance but for the most part it goes something like this:

In it’s simplest form it is a one or two man fore-check in the offensive end of the rink with the odd-man or furthest man from the puck playing high in the offensive zone in case the puck gets turned over or the defensive team gains control.  As the puck or puck carrier changes position, the forwards rotate down accordingly pressuring the puck carrier with the odd man staying high.

Every hockey coach in every hockey league in the world starting from pee-wee and up has uttered the words … “third man (woman) high” 

Whether it is a one man or a two man fore-check is dependant on the score.  If you’re losing the game, you probably send two men in and as the game gets later in the third period you might send in all three and have your defenemen pinching down as well.  Almost like a “full-court press” in basketball.

Conversely, if you’re winning you might/should go with a passive one man (first man in) fore-check and keep the other two high. 


image provided by AtomicRed

BUT in either scenario when you lose the puck on offence you quickly retreat into the neutral zone with all five men facing the puck-carrier.  This is known as the “Neutral Zone Trap” or the “Left Wing Lock”.  The “Left Wing Lock” is a another form of the “Neutral Zone Trap” that the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings have been using for decades.

The New Jersey Devils trapped their way to three Stanley Cup victories under three different coaches that either played or were trained in the Montreal organisation.  Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and the late Pat Burns.  Nuff said?  

Teams like the Phoenix Coyotes that weren’t very gifted offensively have used this ploy the last four or five years.  The beauty of this system is that it keeps you in low scoring hockey games and a trained chimp can execute it.  It’s not pretty or entertaining to watch but it seems to work in putting W’s in the win column.

I’m pretty sure in 1995-96 an extremely average Florida Panthers team used this ploy along with some outstanding goaltending from John Vanbiesbrouck to make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to a superior Colorado Avalanche team.

Most of you by now are saying to yourself  “What’s your point Mitch”?

My point is.  Was this just a sudden revelation to Coach Noel?  Was it the final straw in trying to save himself from the unemployment line?  Did his players magically just buy-in to this philosophy?  OR the frightening part!!!  Did they just figure out how to execute it in their third year in River City?  Will we ever truly know the answer?  Probably not !!!

The Three New Guys?


Has Michael Frolik been a good influence?

The cynic in me can’t help but think there is a correlation in this new found “buy-in” and the arrival of Matt Halischuk (Barry Trotz), Michael Frolik (Joel Quenneville) and Devin Setoguchi (Todd McLellan and Mike Yeo).  OR is it just a coincidence?  Four Western Conference Coaches from Three Western Conference teams that have had different levels of success  but success nonetheless.

I’ve read between the lines more than once hearing Devin Setoguchi say “We can’t get away playing like that in the Western Conference”  after a loosely played defensive game.

It was also mentioned to me by a very wise ex- Jet that writes here at Winnipeg Hockey Talk that maybe the dressing room figured out that if they get their coach fired because of their poor play the next guy in line could be a miserable tyrant !!!

To use a quote that dates back to the 1500’s …. “better the devil you know”

I don’t know what light switch was flipped or who flipped it but I approve.  Every team can’t be a high scoring, free flowing team like the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The trap game or whatever you want to call it isn’t pretty most of the time but teams have no obligation to put on a show, especially on the road.  It’s all about winning hockey games.  Two or three more wins would have put the Winnipeg Jets in the play-offs last year and maybe even their first year.  I think a few boring regular season games would be a pretty good trade off for some NHL play-off hockey. 

The beauty of it is that the Jets have a very good skating team and they should have an easier time executing good defensive hockey.  This is not “rocket science” or “splitting the atom”.  This has been going on for decades.  The Jets record and competitiveness in the last couple of weeks is the proof.

Okay boys!!!   Are we all on the same page?  Then lets get this show on the road.

Obviously not !!!  I wrote the bulk of this piece before the latest two games vs Philadelphia and Minnesota.  I didn’t see any indication of what I have just written.  I was confused and disappointed.  Does this team think it can pick and choose when or against which team they have to concentrate on their system.  I can see giving the LLW line getting some freedom in that department and especially at home.

BUT … 

I watched in horror as the Jets fourth line got caught with three men deep and gave up another odd-man rush.  OUR FOURTH LINE !!!  If this was done with Coach Claude Noel’s blessing than he isn’t the coach I thought he was.  If this was our fourth line’s idea being sent down to St. John’s is TOO GOOD for them.  Maybe some time in the East Coast League or the Central Hockey League will help the fourth line plugs understand their role.

With the recent injuries on the Jets blue-line you would think playing a tight, close to the vest road game vs Minnesota would make sense.  Somebody didn’t get the memo because the first period vs the Wild was terrible.   

I’m trying real hard to “buy-in” but Coach Claude Noel and/or his players are making it hard.  

I’ll ask the question one more time.

Okay boys!!!   Are we all on the same page?  Then lets get this show on the road.

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