RALEIGH, N.C. – Peter Laviolette won more games than any American-born coach in NHL history. But he didn’t win enough of them lately to keep his job with the Carolina Hurricanes, so they replaced him with their winningest coach – the same one Laviolette himself replaced five years earlier.
The Hurricanes fired Laviolette on Wednesday, brought back Paul Maurice to take over for him and moved Hall of Fame player and assistant general manager Ron Francis behind the bench as Maurice’s associate coach.
“Paul’s always on my mind. Everybody knows he’s my good friend,” Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said. “Take friendship aside, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think him and Ron were the right two to try and make some changes.”
Laviolette led the team to its only Stanley Cup title in 2006, and last month, he became the NHL’s winningest American-born coach. But the Hurricanes – the only team in the league’s modern history to miss the playoffs two straight years after winning it all – lost four of five during the past 1 1/2 weeks.
“We have a team that right now that, in my opinion, is not playing with the kind of confidence it needs,” Rutherford said. “We’ve lost that confidence.”
The GM said he discussed the move with owner Peter Karmanos Jr. earlier this week before receiving permission from new Toronto general manager Brian Burke to speak to Maurice – who was fired last May by the Maple Leafs – about replacing Laviolette.
“It’s really not about the last four or five games,” Rutherford said. “It’s about changing to get the chemistry back on our team, to get the confidence back on our team and make what I would say minor adjustments in a system that really worked in the Stanley Cup year. But teams have adjusted to it, and our team hasn’t adjusted over the last couple of years.”
The 41-year-old Maurice has a career record of 344-357-137 in 11 seasons with Carolina and Toronto. He led the franchise formerly known as the Hartford Whalers through its move to North Carolina in 1997 and coached the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup final in 2002 and won 268 games with the organization before his firing on Dec. 15, 2003.
“I still think that we would have turned it around,” Maurice joked. “I would consider Jim my best friend, and he fired me. One of the reasons we get along so well is that business never crosses over into that friendship. … When he made that decision, I didn’t really question whether it was the right one. I have a lot of faith that it is. So when he called me (Tuesday) and we talked about it for a while, by the time he was done, I said, ‘He was right again.”‘
Rutherford said he would re-evaluate the coaching situation after the season, and that the Maple Leafs are paying Maurice’s salary this year as part of his severance.
Laviolette, who coached the New York Islanders for two seasons, was 167-130-30 in his fifth season with Carolina. He had 2 1/2 years left on the five-year contract he signed in June 2006, shortly after winning the Cup with a free-flowing offensive style that made a star out of Eric Staal and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner out of goalie Cam Ward.
His 244 career wins are five more than John Tortorella – who, coincidentally, was fired during the off-season by Tampa Bay – as the most in league history by a U.S.-born coach.
But his job security came into question late last season when the team wrapped up a second consecutive campaign without making the playoffs, a lull blamed on injuries to key players and a slow start. Following an after-the-season evaluation with Karmanos and Rutherford, Laviolette was retained with a mandate to deliver wins more consistently.
The Hurricanes entered Wednesday 12-11-2 and trailing Southeast Division-leading Washington by three points. They lost nine of 16 games in November, including a dismal midmonth stretch in which they were outscored by a combined 10-3 in consecutive home games against division opponents Atlanta and Washington.