Paul Maurice’s tenure behind the Toronto Maple Leafs’ bench lasted only two seasons. Interim GM Cliff Fletcher announced Wednesday that Maurice was being let go with a year left on his contract.
Fletcher, who took over when John Ferguson Jr. was fired in January, had promised major changes in the organization. The firing of Maurice, who had been hired by Ferguson in May 2006 to coach the Leafs after one season of leading the Toronto Marlies, their AHL affiliate, is the first of what are expected to be multiple changes in a busy off-season.
"This is the start of a new era for the Leafs, with new management, new coaching and a number of new players," Fletcher said during a news conference at the Air Canada Centre. "When the new management team joins us, they’ll be off and running."
The new management will include a replacement for Fletcher, who said that "No one has suggested to me that is the case" when asked if he might stay as GM for the entire 2008-09 season.
When asked why Maurice was fired, Fletcher said simply, "The team missed the playoffs the last two years. A new regime is coming into place, and the new regime will want to bring in its own people."
No successor to Maurice was named, but Fletcher didn’t sound as if he expected to have a hard time attracting top-flight candidates.
"I think the coaching job of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a plum job in the NHL," he said during the news conference.
Fletcher said the quick move would let the 41-year-old Maurice and assistant Randy Ladouceur look for other jobs within the NHL, adding that, "We wish them very, very well. We hope they will have success down the road."
"I appreciate it happening sooner rather than later," Maurice told the Canadian Press.
The Maple Leafs missed the playoffs in both of Maurice's seasons behind the bench. The Leafs finished 12th in the Eastern Conference this season with a 36-35-11 record and 83 points, 11 behind the eighth-place Boston Bruins. Toronto has missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons, the first time that’s happened since 1928.
Maurice became the 26th head coach in Leafs history on May 12, 2006, after one year with the AHL Marlies. Ferguson hired him after firing Pat Quinn shortly after the Leafs failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1998. In his first season, the Leafs had 91 points, but missed the playoffs by one point when the New York Islanders won their final game of the season. They fell back this season, triggering Ferguson’s firing at midseason.
Maurice became an NHL coach at age 28 when he was hired by the Hartford Whalers and spent eight years as coach of the Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes. His best season was 2001-02, when he coached the Hurricanes to their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final - eliminating Toronto in the Eastern Conference final in the process - before losing to Detroit in five games. He was fired 30 games into the 2003-04 season.
Maurice said the move didn't come as a surprise, and that he sensed his job could be in jeopardy after another disappointing season.
"You know the way the season ended up and the changes that are going to take place on the team," he told CP from his Toronto home. "So I was very aware that it was a possibility. I can't say that I was surprised."
The Leafs axed Ladouceur and said assistant Dallas Eakins has been offered a non-coaching position elsewhere in the organization. Keith Acton will remain as an assistant coach.
Material from wire services was used in this report