WINNIPEG - Paul Maurice has spent over 500 games behind the Winnipeg Jets bench - 503 to be exact - and there will be plenty more to come.
Maurice put pen-to-paper on a multi-year extension with the club on Wednesday, a process he said began in the off-season.
"We had met in the summer and it was the direction we all wanted to go. We were excited about it," said Maurice. "Then as we all know, a whole bunch of things happened. It was kind of on the backburner and eventually we all knew it would be taken care of and it has recently."
Since coming to Winnipeg on January 12, 2014, Maurice has hit a number of career milestones. The Western Conference Final in 2018, his 1,500th NHL game on February 5, 2019, and earning his 700th win on October 20, 2019 against the Edmonton Oilers.
He's also sixth on the NHL's all-time list with 1,587 games coached and seventh in wins with 724.
Video: EXCLUSIVE | Paul Maurice
At the top of that list, though, is the fact the 53-year-old gets to keep doing what he loves in a city that has become home for he and his family.
"Priority one is you have a family and you want them to enjoy their lives as well. Winnipeg has given us so much more than we've given the city," said Maurice. "For my kids, their friends, my wife as well, this is truly our home now. Being able to stay and work - I think we were staying one way or another - but being able to stay and work for the Winnipeg Jets is perfect."
From the time of his first head coaching job in 1996-97 with the Hartford Whalers until the 2019-20 version of the Jets, Maurice has had to change his coaching style to adapt with the game.
He believes that perhaps the great shift isn't anything he can draw up on a white board.
"In the time of the NHL, aside from the style of hockey change, the biggest change is what the players need when they come in," said Maurice. "That individual communication and group messaging has to be very clear. They want it, they want that kind of direction. We work hard at it."
Maurice and his staff are constantly evaluating how they interact with their players and what they need to do differently to make a closer connection. It's not easy, especially when players on the Jets roster have ranged from 18-year-old Ville Heinola to 33-year-old captain Blake Wheeler.
"When I came into the league, I think half the team was older than I was. Now I'm about the age of their parents - and their parents are younger than me," Maurice said. "You do need to change the way you talk to people and the way you interact with them. That's all part of the great challenge of being in this league."
The effort Maurice puts into conveying his message to the players is appreciated. Wheeler has often spoke highly of what Maurice has done for him as a player, but Maurice said players like the two-time NHL All-Star captain he works with every day make him better as well.
"Every once in a while you come across a rare player that makes you a better coach, challenges you to be a better coach in their daily drive," Maurice said of Wheeler, who put together back-to-back 91-point seasons on the wing primarily with Mark Scheifele at centre and Kyle Connor on the left wing.
When injuries took key players out of the line-up, Wheeler was more than willing to sacrifice those numbers and move to centre.
"There is a lot of pride in those guys that are driven to be as good as he is," said Maurice. "The sacrifice he's been willing to make, night after night. The injuries he's been willing to play through - all the things the fans wouldn't see. You know you have to go to the rink and get your job done, get your work done, get your video done, prepare your hockey team, because he's made a bigger sacrifice coming to the rink."
As the team continues its fight for a playoff spot for a third consecutive season, Maurice and his staff will continue to put in the hours necessary to prepare the squad to hit the ice in the grind that is the NHL schedule.
"It truly wasn't anything I thought of," Maurice said of the extension. "Once we talked in the summer and agreed it was something we all really wanted to do, it was an inevitability it would happen, as it has.
"There are two things that you hope for at any point in your life, certainly at the point I'm at. You want to enjoy your professional life. Over the course of the hours of the day, it's where you spend all your time. I love working here. There are lots of challenges that come with a young team, but that keeps you moving and growing as a coach and getting better."