Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.
(TORONTO) - Enough time has passed since April 9.
Paul Maurice can talk about it now.
The Maple Leafs missed the playoffs by a point despite rallying to beat the Montreal Canadiens 6-5 on the last night of the schedule for both clubs. The New Jersey Devils lost to the New York Islanders and despite a 40-31-11 record, the Leafs were done.
There is a sort of post-concussion syndrome for coaches whose teams fall short at the last moment. You're barreling forward and then...full stop.
"It takes about a month to deal with it," Maurice was saying, "and I can tell you exactly when it happened. There is a company that asked me to address their employees and I remember right in the middle of it, saying to them, ‘I'm actually getting excited about next season.'"
Properly decompressed, Maurice has found his place around the house and re-introduced himself to his wife Michelle and his three children.
"I'm finally at the point where I can look at the positives," he said. " I look at Andrew Raycroft, Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White, Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and Kyle Wellwood as players who will be big parts of our team going forward."
The move to a salary cap system has put a new emphasis on player development. It is now, for the Leafs and everyone else, the only way. "The development of those players," he said, "is what I am taking from the year."
Maurice's first season in Toronto brought few surprises. A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Maurice had always understood the allure and the demands of wearing the Maple Leaf. But no amount of understanding could properly prepare him for a season of unrelenting media and public attention.
"You had to live it to appreciate the daily scrutiny but the one thing I was most aware of was the emotional swing that comes with playing here. There's no middle ground. You win and you're champs and you lose and you're bums. There's no middle ground. The older players are used to it but I think it sometimes affects the younger guys."
Now that it's over, don't expect Maurice to savour the post-season or root for the lone Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators.
"I can not pull for anyone," he said. "I force myself to watch the finals and I don't watch the hockey up to then. It's kind of like there is this party going on that you're not invited to. In the end, you're not happy for anyone there."
He has drawn one conclusion from the hockey he has seen. The Anaheim Ducks, chuck full of big, fast forwards who can check may bring a more robust style of play back into vogue.
"I think the Western Conference is more about hitting within the rules. If Anaheim wins I think you'll see more teams loading up on players like theirs. After a couple of years where they were out, I think the grinder is going to be back in fashion."