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Jets sign coach Maurice to 4-year deal

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) - Coach Paul Maurice has been given a four-year extension by the Winnipeg Jets.

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And he and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff appear to be agree on some of the team's needs.

One of them is keeping Ondrej Pavelec as the team's starting goaltender.

Cheveldayoff said it was disappointing not to make the playoffs, but he didn't suggest he's deviating in any big way from his draft-and-develop philosophy and that includes sticking with his 26-year-old starting goalie.

''Ondrej Pavelec is the No. 1 goaltender going into next season,'' the general manager said.

''He's relatively a young goaltender when it comes to being a starting goaltender and when you give those young players those opportunities to excel there's going to be some bumps along the way.''

Pavelec has received criticism because of a save percentage of .901 and a goals-against average of 3.01.

Maurice said he wouldn't have a lot to say about who plays for the team, which is a general manager's job, but he had no problem at all with Pavelec as his starting goalie.

''We're at a stage in our franchise where we've got three or four potentially critical pieces through our lineup that are here that we've got to make better. We've got to put them in a position to be better then they have to be better. ...

''And I think Evander Kane falls into that hole, really good young talented players that need to develop, that need to get better and I think they will get better ... In my mind, with Ondrej Pavelec, we have to do everything we can as a team to give our goaltending the best chance to win us games and that hasn't happened yet.''

Kane finished with only 19 goals this season, fewer than the 30 he scored in 2011-12, although this season he missed 19 games - 18 due to injuries and another as a healthy scratch, reportedly for missing a team meeting.

Maurice came in as Claude Noel's replacement in January and impressed Jets management as well as the players with his skills.

''He's an impressive hockey coach but he's an impressive person as well,'' Cheveldayoff said.

''He walked in and he made a tremendous impact from the moment he walked in and we believe that we're just scratching the surface on the impact he can make on this franchise moving forward.''

Maurice said on the phone from his home in Ohio that he made the decision fairly early on that he wanted to stay in Winnipeg. The deal was done Tuesday and he immediately flew home to talk about it with his family and they supported him.

''It didn't take much time, I called Kevin and said we're in and put a sign on the front steps today,'' he said.

Maurice guided the team to an 18-12-5 record over 35 games after Noel's firing, a decision that Cheveldayoff said hurt him.

''Claude Noel is a tremendous coach and an even better person,'' he said.

Noel had only part of one season as an NHL head coach on his resume when he became coach of the Jets in 2011.

His replacement has a career coaching record of 478-469-172 over 1,119 NHL games with the Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise.

Maurice, who also said Wednesday he has accepted an offer to join Team Canada as an assistant coach for the world championship, says the Jets are further along and have a better balance of youth and experience than some of the other teams he's coach in the NHL.

He says that means their development should be faster. Whether the goal of making the playoffs can be achieved next year, the answer seems to be maybe, but not initially as a Stanley Cup contender.

''We're trying to move to the middle of the pack, I mean the end goal here is to be a contending team, and I think there are six of those teams right now in the Western Conference, I think there's two in the Eastern Conference. ... then there's the other eight teams that are in the playoffs,'' he said.

Winnipeg finished 37-35-10 and settled for an 11th-place finish in the Western Conference with 84 points. It was exactly the same record the Jets managed in their first year in their new home in 2011-12, although the Jets were in the Eastern Conference until this season.

It was also the third straight season they have missed the playoffs since relocating to Winnipeg from Atlanta. The former Atlanta Thrashers made the playoffs only once, in 2007.

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The Associated Press
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