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Maurice's Time As Head Coach Ends

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Paul Maurice represented the Toronto Maple Leafs beautifully.

Intelligent and well-spoken, he once used the word epiphany in an answer. A reporter asked Maurice if he thought old school Leafs’coach Punch Imlach ever used the word epiphany.

“Probably towards the end,” came Maurice’s reply.

He explained hockey and human dynamics as thoroughly as his predecessor, the avuncular Pat Quinn.

But Maurice didn’t win enough. And in the end, that’s always what matters.

In a 3 p.m. news conference, the Leafs will confirm the firing of the 41-year-old Maurice after two seasons, 76 wins, 66 losses and 22 overtime or shootout losses. He has one year remaining on his contract.

Maurice spent the lockout season ringing up a 41-29-4-6 record with the American Hockey League Marlies but fell short of guiding the Leafs to the playoffs in two tries. The Leafs came closest in Maurice’s first year, missing the 2006-2007 campaign by a point after beating Montreal on the last night of the season.

An unabashed booster of Leafs captain Mats Sundin, Maurice was almost never critical of his players but rinkside patrons got more than they bargained for on at least two nights when he called time and berated his bench in a long, profane tirade.

His firing will do little to solve the riddle of whether Maurice was a victim of the mistakes of former Leafs’ GM John Ferguson or the architect of his own demise.

For example, his decision to give Andrew Raycroft 71 games two seasons ago either represented a gross miscalculation or a horrible organizational shallowness in goal that left only journeyman J.S. Aubin to spell Raycroft.

Was Jason Blake’s dismal 15-goal output an unforgiveable signing on Ferguson’s part or an indictment of Maurice. The season before, Blake scored 40 for Islanders coach Ted Nolan.

Under Maurice, Nik Antropov, Alex Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan and Sundin had career years. Vesa Toskala emerged after some struggles as a go-to number one goalie. Kyle Wellwood flowered with more ice time and then dramatically regressed. Raycroft tanked, Bryan McCabe floundered.

Certainly, when the Leafs fired John Ferguson, January 23, Maurice’s status with the Leafs became further imperiled.

A new general manager, especially one with the sweeping powers of a team president, would probably want his own coach.

But Maurice did what he could. He rallied the Leafs to a 12-5 mark from February 16-March 22. It was an illusionary improvement, the Leafs still finished 11th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference, 11 points behind eighth place Boston.

Maurice also coached the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise for just over eight seasons.

Maurice will meet the media Thursday morning.

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