We’re still very much in a time where teams in any sport are going to overreact to playoff results. They have 82 or 162 games of sample size where they play everyone and aren’t confined to one matchup with one team at one time with one health status, but whatever happens in four to seven games still sends teams into hysterics.
Take the Florida Panthers. Best season in the NHL, Presidents’ Trophy. Best season in their history, which is obviously not much of a claim. One of the most exciting teams we’ve seen in some time, averaging over four goals per game. Won the toughest division in hockey. Saw that over 82 games, and they did that after losing Joel Quenneville as coach in the middle of the season, thanks to Q’s prioritization of winning over sexual assault under his supervision with the Hawks in 2010, and didn’t miss a beat with Andrew Brunette stepping in.
The Panthers ’season ended at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round. Not just ended, but swept. And swept at the hands of the team that the Panthers are always eyeballing, simply because the Bolts are the closest opponent to them. Not status-wise, but by actual distance. The Lightning have turned a Florida city into a hockey town, are a perennial power, and the Cats want all that, even though Miami is very different from Tampa. Or whatever mall parking lot outside of Miami the Panthers call home.
But all that happened to the Cats was that they got Vasilevskiy’d. It happens. Sure, they’re the ones who tossed out Sergie Bobrovsky out against him, mostly because of his paycheck that the Panthers just had to give him. And that was never going to work out. And Bob wasn’t even bad! He gave up 10 goals over our games. That usually is good enough to get you a split at worst! The Panthers had the better chances and more shots in three of four games. You could easily argue that on the balance of play, the Panthers really should have been 2-2.
But Vasilevsky had a .980 save percentage in the four games. .980! That’s not supposed to happen. That’s something from Krypton or Zenn-La. What can you do? That’s hockey, and it sucks to high heaven to try and figure out what you can do next time and conclude that there isn’t anything. People get paid a lot of money to find those answers, and if you’re not finding them, someone’s going to ask you other questions you don’t want. Which means coming up with answers that aren’t there.
Which means blowing up whatever made you cool and interesting and hiring Paul Maurice as coach. In the NHL, if you get one job, you get 17. Even if you’ve proven over two decades now that you’re no damn good at it, if not an outright blithering idiot.
We have to be real. There is nothing that Maurice did in Winnipeg that should ever, ever get him another head coaching job, much less one guiding the most explosive team in the league. Maurice does nothing well. You couldn’t put together a much better roster than the Jets had under his watch. Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Patrik Laine (ok he’s a one-dimensional, uninterested bum but let’s just go with it), Mathieu Perreault, Jacob Trouba, Nik Ehlers, Andrew Copp, Dustin Byfuglien, and Kyle Connor are just some of the skaters that Maurice had, as well as one of the best goalies in the game in Connor Hellebuyck. It’s a similar array of talent Maurice will find in Florida, honestly.
And what did Winnipeg get for Maurice’s service? One final conference. One other playoff series win, and that came in last year what-have-ya when the refs decided they weren’t going to call penalties on Connor McDavid. The Jets then got thwacked by the dizzy walrus that was the Montreal Canadiens. No division titles. Nothing.
If the Panthers are under the impression they need to get better defensively, for some reason, even though they were one of the best teams in the league in terms of attempts against at even-strength. They were 15th in expected-goals against, so sure, maybe they gave up too many good chances against. Barely, and that matters way less when you create so many or yourself. Either way, Maurice does nothing to help any of that. The Jets were never a good defensive team under him, regularly middle-of-the-pack in terms of attempts or expected goals against. Once, once, did the Jets finish higher than 12th in xGA per 60, and that was in 2017-2018. The next season they were 20th, so it screams “anomaly” more than structural genius. The Jets regularly seemed to play without any structure in their own end or anyone else, and teams regularly and relentlessly scorched them up the ice on the counter when they would turn the puck over. Again, look at that array of talent that Maurice couldn’t figure out what to do with.
And it’s not like the Jets were an offensive force either. They never averaged over 2.4 xGF at evens in Maurice’s time. Sure, they had enough talent to overcome that and shoot the lights out, but that’s not coaching.
Even worse, the Jets were one of the dumbest teams in the league throughout Maurice’s reign of huh? You could always count on them to take an egregious penalty at the wrong time or be out of position or be goaded into something, because Maurice is still one of those coaches who preaches GRITHEARTSANDPAPERFAAAAAAAARRRRT over everything. The only category the Jets were in the top-10 of during Maurice’s stint was penalties per game. Boy that Cup better gets its sunscreen on!
And the Jets HATED playing for Maurice. They quit on him in the playoffs multiple times. You could see it. They were constantly bitching, constantly unhappy, beyond the accepted level that having to live and work in Winnipeg would generate. This is a team that underachieved for nearly a decade almost solely because it despised its coach so much. And this is who the Panthers came running for?
Maurice has been dining out on a Stanley Cup final appearance that is now 20 years ago. He hasn’t been anywhere close since. Any idiot can appear in one Cup Final. That Max Headroom guy the Canadiens had last year can. He’s out of a job now. Alain Vigneault has been there twice! But this is the NHL. You’re never too far away from your next job as long as you’d had one before, no matter how terribly you did it.