In the time since Dan Maloney's firing on February 7, 1989, the former Jets coach has come under fire from fans and players alike.
General Manager Mike Smith termed Maloney's hiring a “mistake.” Laurie Boschman publicly criticized Maloney for trying to make him a defensive player. Maloney put a leash on defenseman Fredrik Olausson, preventing the prolific skater from rushing the puck in a close game. Fans grumbled about the tight-checking, defensive style that Maloney implemented.
Yet, for all his detractors, no coach led the Jets to more success than Maloney did during their time in the NHL.
The Jets lost more than they won under Maloney, but their record with him as their coach is better than under any other coach during their 17 seasons in the NHL. It was under Maloney that the Jets won their only best-of-seven NHL playoff series.
Following the dreadful 1985-86 season in which the Jets plummeted from the precipice of greatness to the bottom of the league faster than a speeding bullet, the Jets needed a new burst of energy behind the bench.
General Manager John Ferguson first turned to Herb Brooks, only to have Brooks turn down the job. He then turned to Bob McCammon, but developing events in Toronto were about to turn the Jets' coaching search upside down.
In the 1986 playoffs, Maloney had led his moribund Leafs team to a first-round victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh and deciding game in the Norris Division final. His reward was a lowball offer of a one-year contract.
Rightly insulted by the offer, Maloney called Ferguson before storming out of Maple Leaf Gardens. Two days later, Ferguson announced that Maloney was the new coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
Much like Ferguson, Maloney was a fiery competitor in his playing days and was no less intense as a coach. Maloney brought a no-nonsense approach to the job and had the freewheeling Jets playing a more defensive system.
Led by the young goaltending tandem of “Pokey and the Bandit” and their established core players, the Jets rebounded to post their second winning season since joining the NHL in 1979. They beat the hated Calgary Flames in the first round of the playoffs, only to bow out meekly once again at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers in the Smythe Division final.
Maloney was runner-up for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year, but they slid back to reality the following season, repeating a pattern that had dogged the Jets throughout their NHL history.
“One good year, one bad year. We won't stand for it,” boasted Maloney on a CJOB radio interview. Despite all his efforts, however, he couldn't prevent it.
Still, despite the disappointment of the 1987-88 season, on their way to another early trip to the golf course, they managed to break a 16-game post-season losing streak against the Oilers with a 6-4 win at the Winnipeg Arena on April 9, 1988. No coach had led the Jets to a post-season victory over the Oilers since Tom McVie led his charges to the AVCO Cup championship in May 1979.
The wheels fell off the next year. Daniel Berthiaume had walked out during training camp and the team struggled out of the gate. Ferguson was fired the day before Halloween and Maloney knew his time was coming shortly thereafter.
Smith, Ferguson's replacement, fired Maloney just over three months later, bringing an end to yet another short-lived coaching tenure in Winnipeg.
It would be the last NHL head coaching job for Maloney, whose dismissal added one more headstone in what became a coach's graveyard at the Winnipeg Arena.
However, though the records the Jets posted under his tenure are nothing spectacular, no coach during their NHL years had more success than Dan Maloney. The “kick in the pants” approach was just what the doctor ordered in 1986 and he was just the man to provide it.