From the moment John Ferguson was fired in late January as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, head coach Paul Maurice was a dead man walking.
So why did it take nearly four months for the coroner to show up and declare him a goner?
According to Leafs interim GM Cliff Fletcher, it was all about timing – specifically, the chance to give Maurice and now-former Toronto assistant coach Randy Ladouceur the chance to find another job as early as possible.
But that’s not the timing Fletcher should’ve been concerned with.
For the record, the affable Maurice was officially shown the door Wednesday morning. However, the noose had been fashioned for him long before then.
He’d only held the job for a year-and-a-half when Ferguson was dismissed, but it was clear to many NHL observers that whomever replaced Fletcher would want his own candidate behind Toronto’s bench, thus leaving Maurice on borrowed time.
“I think it was obvious that new management would want new coaching,” Fletcher said at a news conference announcing Maurice’s dismissal.
My question is, if it was obvious today new management would want new coaching, why wasn’t it obvious the moment Fletcher took over from Ferguson?
What the Leafs should’ve done then was cleared out both the GM and coaching positions at the same time and installed an interim coach alongside Fletcher whose strings management could easily pull with an eye toward improving the franchise long-term.
Instead, by leaving Maurice in charge for the remainder of the season, they created a situation where he was coaching to hang onto his job – hence his insane insistence of playing goalie Vesa Toskala for 30 straight games before Toronto was eliminated from playoff contention – rather than doing the smart thing and positioning the team for a better draft slot.
Now, rather than drafting in the top five of a deep draft, the Leafs will choose seventh overall, and Maurice is gone anyway. It’s small moves like this that add up to the reason why Toronto has been pining for a Stanley Cup championship for the last 41 years.
But that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill for churning out scenarios that grow more fantastic by the minute. The latest gossip at the press conference had Leafs ownership asking permission to speak with former Vancouver GM Dave Nonis for the position.
Nonis carries none of the qualifications (i.e. being a proven winner in the position) the Leafs have said they’re looking for, but the whispers were that Nonis would hold onto the position for a single year and then hand over the reins to Ducks GM Brian Burke after his contract expires at the end of next season.
So, if you’re following, Nonis plays babysitter for his good friend and mentor Burke, then nobly steps aside so the real architect could step in and get his plan up and running. Any more twists and turns in this tale and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment will be dropping down breadcrumbs to counter the convolution.
It also sounds a whole lot to me like the Leafs would be “spinning their wheels in sand,” contrary to Fletcher’s insistence Wednesday, under such a plan.
Enough of that talk for now. Today’s story is about Maurice. Don’t shed a tear for him, as he’ll land on his feet with relative ease either with another NHL team or as a TV analyst.
Save those tears for a Leafs franchise and fan base that has a lot of rebuilding – and probably another coaching change or two – in the cards before they ever get close to hockey’s holiest of grails.