Paul Maurice has found himself in some very elite company.
With the Winnipeg Jets’ 8-2 dismantling of the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the Winnipeg bench boss became the second youngest coach (47 years, 348 days) in the history of the NHL to reach 500 wins. The only coach faster? Legendary Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman (45 years, 94 days).
Maurice got his start in the NHL at the ripe, young age of 28, taking over the coaching duties for the Hartford Whalers. After finishing 19-24-5 the season prior in a lockout-shortened campaign, then-coach Paul Holmgren was on the hotseat in Hartford. After getting out to a 5-6-1 start, the Whalers made the move to relieve Holmgren of his duties, and it would be the beginning of a nine-year run for Maurice as the coach of the Hartford/Carolina franchise.
After he took over from Holmgren, the Whalers improved, if only slightly, finishing with 29 wins and 66 points under Maurice. Over the course of the next eight seasons, Maurice took a team that had missed the playoffs in six straight years spanning from 1992-93 to 1997-98 and turned them into a perennial playoff contender.
In 2001-02, he led the Hurricanes to a 35-26-16 record, the Southeast Division title and shocked the NHL by downing the New Jersey Devils in the first round, the Montreal Canadiens in the second, and Toronto Maple Leafs in the third. For the first time in franchise history, the team was in the Stanley Cup Final.
Though they would be overpowered in five games by the Presidents’ Trophy winning Detroit Red Wings, it was an outstanding feat by a 35-year-old coach who had been with the team for their entire growth to that point. The following season, however, the Hurricanes missed the playoffs, and in 2003-04, after an 8-12-8-2 start, Maurice was let go.
He found his way back to the NHL in 2006-07, spending two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, coaching them to a 76-66-22 record over 164 games. Let go after the 2007-08 season, Maurice was at home waiting for a call when the Hurricanes got off to a bad start.
Less than half way into the 2008-09 season, after firing coach Peter Laviolette, Maurice was snatched up by the same Hurricanes that had let him go just five years earlier. Under Maurice, the team experienced an incredible turn around, going 33-19-5 the rest of the way, and fighting their way all the way to the Eastern Conference Final, where the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins swept them.
Three years later, in 2011-12, Maurice would again be let go by the Hurricanes. And in January 2014, after the Winnipeg Jets fired coach Claude Noel, Maurice was brought in to coach the NHL’s newest team.
Under Maurice, the Jets went on a brilliant run, coming just seven points short of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. And this season, though many believed the Jets were bound for the Central Division basement, Maurice has Winnipeg playing the best hockey of its four years in Manitoba’s capital. And now, just shy of his 48th birthday, Maurice can say he is the second-youngest coach to ever crack the 500-win plateau.
Maurice may never win the Stanley Cups that Bowman has, may never take home a Jack Adams Award, and likely won’t find himself in the Hall of Fame. But having the longevity Maurice has had -- especially in a league where when things go sideways, the coach is the first to go -- is mighty impressive. Maurice has been a fixture of the NHL for 17 seasons and a common figure in the league for the last two decades. Winning 500 games at a younger age than all but one legendary coach is a great achievement, and fitting for a man who has worked so hard to help turn around so many teams.