Mau­rice not ready to sell his team short

Jets coach be­lieves club can right the ship be­fore trade dead­line

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - SPORTS - By Jeff Hamil­ton

ASTA R for­ward felled in prac­tice. A No. 1 goal­tender in sick bay, a rookie third-stringer play­ing like a sea­soned starter and an­other goalie who needs his con­fi­dence nur­tured.

Mark Scheifele’s con­cus­sion and a bat­tle of the back­ups be­tween Con­nor Helle­buyck and Michael Hutchin­son means Win­nipeg Jets coach Paul Mau­rice has too much to worry about to­day to give any thought to what might hap­pen Feb. 29 — trade-dead­line day.

“Not even a lit­tle bit,” said Mau­rice, af­ter his team’s prac­tice at the MTS Cen­tre Mon­day, when asked if the dead­line has crossed his mind. “I’ve never liked to see guys get traded. You’ve got to go with what you got and I’m not a big fan of mov­ing guys out un­less it clearly doesn’t fit. It’s my job to get more out of them.”

The main fo­cus for Mau­rice at the mo­ment is try­ing to get the best from ev­ery one of his play­ers. But at 16-17-2, the Jets find them­selves in trou­bled wa­ters, closer to be­com­ing a seller than a buyer come Feb. 29.

With that date still two months away, the Jets’ bench boss feels the task at hand is much more im­por­tant than what de­ci­sions could be made in the fu­ture.

Get­ting more out of the play­ers will ul­ti­mately mean keep­ing more of them around. That’s where Mau­rice hopes to be by late Fe­bru­ary, his team in­tact and play­ing the kind of con­sis­tent game seen last year when the Jets reached a fran­chise-high 99 points and earned their first play­off berth since the re­lo­ca­tion from At­lanta in 2011.

Whether that comes to fruition is an­other thing. Win­nipeg has yet to put to­gether a win­ning streak greater than two games this sea­son and their road record, 6-12-1, is nowhere near where it needs to be as they get ready for a sea­son-high, five-game trip af­ter a date with Detroit to­day.

And the re­al­ity that the NHL is just as much a busi­ness as it is a game, there’s no doubt the next few weeks will tell the story of where the Jets stand, and, per­haps more im­por­tantly, who stays.

Right now, the Jets are con­scious of the fact they con­trol their own fate. And they’re up to the chal­lenge, even if it means a mas­sive im­prove­ment from what’s been seen so far this year.

“Look­ing at where we are in the stand­ings, you re­al­ize what’s ahead of us… it’s tough to make up those points if you don’t start right now,” said cap­tain An­drew Ladd. “We’ve al­ways been hov­er­ing just be­low or right at the play­off line, we haven’t really ex­pe­ri­enced that and we don’t really want to ex­pe­ri­ence that. It’s our job, as play­ers, to put our­selves in a po­si­tion where you make (gen­eral man­ager Kevin Chevel­day­off) feel like he wants to add a few guys in­stead of do­ing the op­po­site.”

In this case, the op­po­site means un­load­ing pieces, making the kind of moves that sug­gest a re­build. That di­rec­tion isn’t how you at­tract free agents, and it does lit­tle to gain the trust of the cur­rent vet­eran core. At 28 years old, for­ward Mathieu Perreault is part of that group who has lit­tle in­ter­est in the draft-and-de­velop model.

“I’m get­ting older and you want to win,” he said. “I’m not look­ing to re­build. I hope we can turn things around. We’re in the right di­rec­tion, we’ve played some good hockey. It’s go­ing to take ev­ery­one in this room to win games. Hope­fully we can po­si­tion our­selves to that point to where we’re making moves to go for­ward and try and make the play­offs, not put our­self in a bad sit­u­a­tion.”

Asked what could hap­pen if the Jets find them­selves in that bad sit­u­a­tion come Fe­bru­ary, Mau­rice re­cited a piece of ad­vice he said he’d heard from a close friend ear­lier in his ca­reer.

“Never live a bad day twice,” he said. “So if that day comes I’ll an­swer that ques­tion.”

Un­til then, he has plenty on his mind to deal with.

jeff.hamil­ton@freep­ress.mb.ca

twit­ter: @jef­fkhamil­ton

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