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Hurricanes re-sign Maurice, coaching staff

by John McGourty
The Carolina Hurricanes said Monday they have signed head coach Paul Maurice to a three-year contract. In keeping with team policy, financial terms were not released.

The Hurricanes also announced they will retain their entire coaching staff, while promoting two members within that group.

Ron Francis will return as associate head coach and will add the title of director of player personnel, and Tom Barrasso has been promoted from goaltending coach to assistant coach while retaining supervisory responsibility over the team's goaltenders. Assistant coaches Tom Rowe and Kevin McCarthy retain those titles.

"When Paul came in, he did a really good job of bringing the coaching staff together," said General Manager Jim Rutherford. "They had good chemistry, and the delegation of certain areas where everybody felt they had an important role in the staff (worked well).

"That chemistry then flowed over into the team. The players bought into it and bought into the adjustments that were made. I really felt that Paul did an exceptional job at that, which really helped in the overall picture."

"What we can't do is rely on one sword. We can't be a totally defensive-minded team and be successful. At the same time, you can't just open it up every night and expect to be successful. ... We're really trying to establish that balance and have that as one as the hallmarks of our team, playing strong defensively while pushing for goals."
-- Paul Maurice

The retention of the staff and the promotions are a reflection on Maurice's ability to fully utilize the expertise of each coach and increase each person's role. It also allows Francis to get away from the bench at various times and evaluate team prospects.

Rutherford said the new titles reflect responsibilities Francis and Barrasso undertook, in addition to their regular roles.

"It's really more so people understand that (Francis) does more with the organization than just coach," Rutherford said. "It's mostly the duties he's done over the past couple of years (he was director of player development before going behind the bench). ... There will be times during the year we'll ask him to go work on player development and some other things involved with players, on top of his coaching.

"With Barrasso, his top priority is the goalies but last year he was preparing the team for games and in-between periods. So I thought it was important his title was changed."

Maurice became the Hurricanes' coach for the second time when Rutherford fired Peter Laviolette on Dec. 3, when the Hurricanes were 12-11-2 and second in the Southeast Division, three points behind the Washington Capitals.

While the winning record might not seem indicative of a need for change, the Hurricanes were 0-for-25 on the power play in their previous six games and their  4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 30 was their third straight at the RBC Center. That game also marked the 10th straight game in which they surrendered the first goal.

Worse, attendance had fallen steadily and the hometown fans booed the Hurricanes, 6-7 at home through Nov. 30, through much of the third period of the loss to the Ducks.

The Hurricanes initially struggled as Maurice changed their style of play, losing four of the first five games Maurice coached; they had only six wins in 13 games in December.

They continued to struggle into January, when a four-game win streak was followed by a five-game losing streak. The team seemed to make a turnaround in late January when they won four of five games to close the month.

Most important, team leader Eric Staal caught fire in Maurice's system, scoring 11 of his 40 goals in the coach's first 20 games.

The Hurricanes also re-acquired right wing Erik Cole at the March 4 trading deadline, and closed the season on a 12-3-2 run. Two of those losses occurred in the last two regular-season games, after the Hurricanes had clinched their playoff berth.

Carolina's playoff berth was their first since Laviolette coached them to the 2006 Stanley Cup.

Maurice also gets credit for the marked improvement of young defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Anton Babchuk. Goalie Cam Ward was 8-7-2 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage on Dec. 3, but he finished the season third in the NHL with 39 wins, plus a 2.44 GAA and .916 save percentage.

"The game has changed dramatically," Maurice said. "The way we view the game has completely changed. We had some success my first time here, being a really tight defensive team, the way we had to play. That was our strength. And now we have a balance. We've still got a very, very good goaltender, an elite goaltender. ... We talk about Eric Staal, and for good reason. 

"What we can't do is rely on one sword. We can't be a totally defensive-minded team and be successful. At the same time, you can't just open it up every night and expect to be successful. ... We're really trying to establish that balance and have that as one as the hallmarks of our team, playing strong defensively while pushing for goals."

The Hurricanes were 9-9-3 in Maurice's first 21 games, but beginning with a 2-0 victory Jan. 19 against the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Hurricanes finished 24-10-2 to clinch sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They beat the New Jersey Devils in the first round.

The Hurricanes beat the top-seeded Boston Bruins in seven games in the second round, and then were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals.

"When the coaching change was made, there were a couple of things I wanted to see improved," Rutherford said. "The one thing was that the team got to a point where we had team confidence. There were players that had their confidence personally at certain times, but we could never get over that hump that we felt really good about the team as a whole. The other was to change the system a bit so we could continue our offensive attack but also that we could defend a little better.

"Both those things were accomplished, I would say, with about 20 games left in the season. I started to feel good about our team and the improvements, but at the same time there was still work to do.

"Once we got into the playoffs and we played a very tough team in New Jersey and eliminated them, and Boston and eliminated them, it became more and more obvious that Paul and this coaching staff was respected by the players and they bought into what was being taught to them and this was the staff I hoped (with which) we could go forward."

Maurice's first stint with the franchise came when it was in Hartford in 1995-96 and lasted 20 games into the 2003-04 season, when he was replaced by Laviolette.

Maurice's combined record with Hartford, Carolina and the Toronto Maple Leafs is 377-376-99-43 in 895 games. He ranks ninth among active coaches in wins and 29th all-time.

Maurice said he is more relaxed than his first time coaching the Hurricanes. He said he has learned to delegate responsibilities, which has made him a better coach.

"I think I use the people around me better than I did before," Maurice said. "And that includes Jim Rutherford, the management, trainers and coaches. The people we have here in Carolina are capable of doing a very good job, so I don't micromanage those things as much as I used to and that allows me to relax a little bit and spend more time with the players, get to know them a little bit better, and I think that helps build a stronger relationship with them."

Technically, Maurice remains under contract to the Maple Leafs, who he coached for two seasons before being fired at the end of the 2007-08 season. Rutherford said he did compensate the Maple Leafs, but did not disclose the compensation.

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