TORONTO – There are no longer any regrets for Paul Maurice.
When the Carolina Hurricanes coach returns to the Air Canada Centre, he’s able to focus on the positive aspects of the two seasons he spent in charge of the Maple Leafs. Over time, the memories have improved.
“I think I enjoy them a lot more now,” Maurice said Thursday before the Hurricanes faced Toronto. “I look back at my time here and the friendships you make. The Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s still one of the best jobs in hockey—as long you’re winning. We didn’t do enough of it to stick around longer.
“I don’t look back at my time in Toronto any more and say `I wish it hadn’t happened.’ I’m clearly better for the experience.”
As it turns out, Maurice moved on to better things. The Hurricanes made a run to the Eastern Conference final after he rejoined the organization in 2009 and he’s currently leading a young team that is in the thick of the playoff chase.
The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, have never come close to the post-season while the organization was totally overhauled. Only one player currently with the team was here for the 2007-08 season under Maurice—and Tomas Kaberle’s tenure appears to be nearing its end.
The most frustrating part for Leafs fans is that the new group has won even less than the one that preceded it. However, Maurice doesn’t think things would be much different if he hadn’t been replaced by Ron Wilson.
“I’m not sure having stayed it would have been the continued upswing,” said Maurice.
As organizations, the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs couldn’t be much more different.
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has been on the job since the franchise moved south from Hartford in 1997 and he’s fostered an unparalleled culture of loyalty—not only giving Maurice a second chance, but also reacquiring current players Erik Cole and Joe Corvo.
There has also been a recent trend of acquiring former Maple Leafs and, perhaps not coincidentally, many of them had previously played under Maurice: forward Jiri Tlusty, defencemen Ian White and Jay Harrison and minor-league goaltender Justin Pogge.
Maurice has some supporters among that group.
“A really, really solid coach—real fair,” said White. “He’s honest, approachable and intense as well. He demands and expects the most of his players.”
Added Harrison: “Paul is a very intense coach. He spends a great deal of time on the details, stressing the details. He wants us to develop a certain identity as a team, that’s a big part of his philosophy, and I think that speaks a lot to the success (he’s had).”
Maurice has a good sense of the differences between hockey markets.
Players are afforded a level of patience by fans and media in Raleigh, N.C., that simply doesn’t exist in Toronto. Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring as an 18-year-old, but Maurice isn’t sure that would be happening if he was breaking in with the Maple Leafs.
“I’ve found with Jeff that you just shouldn’t underestimate him,” said Maurice. “There’s a chance (it would be the same). I think it’s a lot more difficult to be under the microscope every shift and a player with his skill level, he would be. … At the same time, there would be a weekly argument `Is he getting tired? Is he falling off? He didn’t score yesterday, what’s going on?’
“We don’t have to deal with that.”
Even though Maurice celebrated his 44th birthday last week—still reasonably young in the profession—he has spent 14 seasons as a head coach in the NHL. He took some university business classes after getting fired by the Maple Leafs, but has no plans of transitioning into another career.
“After awhile what else do you do?” said Maurice. “I’ve been doing this since I was 20 years old so I’m not qualified for anything else. Some would even argue I’m not qualified for this.
“Once it’s what you do, there isn’t another option.”
There’s no mystery about what keeps him going. Hewasn’t in charge when the Hurricanes lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 2006 but plans on being there when it happens again.
“I think as you get older, winning becomes even more important to you,” said Maurice. “You want it more. I like this good young team, I’d like to be part of the development of the team and part of the success after.
“I’ve started to enjoy coaching more and more.”