by Kate Shefte
Hello again, Paul Maurice.
Maurice, who coached the Hurricanes from 1995 (during the Hartford days) to 2003, from a half-filled Greensboro stadium to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, is back for another run with the Carolina Hurricanes. Maurice, the winningest coach in the Hartford/Carolina franchise history, assumed Peter Laviolette’s job immediately after the three-year coach was fired this morning.
“This is a situation that we’ve looked at probably three times over the last year, for different reasons,” Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said. “When you look at it that many times, there’s a reason.”
Rutherford said he spoke with Laviolette this morning, and that Laviolette had seen the writing on the wall. After a history-making two seasons of Stanley Cup hangover and a 2008-2009 campaign that looked to be heading in that direction, Laviolette had guessed his time was up. Laviolette was a vocal, tough coach and the players clearly listened to and respected him, but his coaching style – and team – lacked an element of toughness and he could not manufacture that energy and drive that had come so naturally during the cup-winning season again.
Laviolette had an incredible run. I’m not sure if there are stats on how long the average NHL coach stays in one place, but Laviolette certainly surpassed it, whatever it is. He lead his team to a cup run in his first full season as a coach and came within one game of making the playoffs last year. He handled his post with dignity and passion; Laviolette was never one to hide his feelings after a tough loss. He will almost certainly find another NHL coaching position, and soon.
Rutherford has always maintained a fondness for bringing back old players that he drafted or acquired, and now it appears that that love of familiarity includes coaches as well. Maurice, who during the press conference called Rutherford his “best friend,” had a lackluster stint in Toronto and was fired this summer, but was retained to coach in the minors. Rutherford was given permission to talk to him earlier this week by the Toronto organization, and a deal was struck.
Not everything will be the same, though. Maurice says he will employ a new style of play, an adaptation to the “hybrid” game of speed and physicality that Laviolette never quite mastered. He said he wants the team to play with speed, but that there are a few things he wants to work on.
“The game prior to the lockout is completely different from the game we see now,” Maurice said. “This team is built to play a certain way, but at the same time, it has to find a way to find a level of consistency.”
Maurice admitted that most of the faces in the locker room are ones that are new to him. Of the current players on the Hurricanes roster, only Ryan Bayda, Rod Brind’Amour, Niclas Wallin, and briefly a 19-year-old Eric Staal were on the roster the last time Maurice was behind the bench.
The question remains: is it too late? If a coaching change is made after the New Year, except in rare cases, the season is considered a wash and the staff is merely building for the future. But Maurice said himself that he isn’t going to try and phase in his new style of play for at least a week, and it will take a month or more for the system to really take effect. That month will be spent playing tough, top-tier teams that will not take it easy on a team in transition. There is plenty of time for a late-season surge…if Maurice’s “new” system does what it’s supposed to.
Of course, can’t leave without addressing Ron Francis’ rapid rise to power. Francis retired a mere three full seasons ago, and is already one ladder rung away from coaching at the NHL level. Francis will give up his roles as vice president and assistant general manager in favor of Jason Karmanos, who has held both jobs before, and Kevin McCarthy and Tom Rowe will be kept on as his fellow assistant coaches.
“I wasn’t really looking for this, Francis said. “When you’re in the position I was in, you’re hoping it wouldn’t come to this day. Jim asked me if this was something I’d consider doing, and I thought about it, and I thought I’d give it an opportunity.”
Francis said he will re-assess at the end of the season to see if coaching is something he enjoys and will continue to do.