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Maurice never content to rest as Jets coach

On way to leading Central Division in All-Star Game, insistent on continuing to learn and adapt

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- In the 22 years between his appearances in the NHL All-Star Game, Paul Maurice has evolved as a coach.

And not just a little.

"I'm as different a coach now as the game is different," said Maurice, whose Winnipeg Jets (31-15-2) are first in the Central Division with 64 points heading into the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose. "On the spectrum of what's changed more, I think we've probably followed a good path. In 2006 the game changed dramatically. The [NHL salary] cap comes in. And skilled players come in and it changed everything about the game. The game now is way more fun to coach. Absolutely."

 

[RELATED: Full NHL All-Star Game coverage]

 

Maurice will coach the Central Division this weekend, returning to the site of his first NHL All-Star Game in 1997. There, he was an assistant to coach Doug MacLean for the Eastern Conference as a 28-year-old coach in his second season with the Hartford Whalers.

Fast forward to this year and Maurice, 51, is coaching his 21st NHL season, his sixth with the Jets.

He is 679-604-113 with 99 ties in 1,495 NHL games and should become the sixth to coach 1,500 games in the NHL when the Jets host the San Jose Sharks at Bell MTS Place on Feb. 5.

Ralph Krueger, the former coach of the Edmonton Oilers (2012-13), has known Maurice for nearly 15 years since Krueger was a scouting consultant for the Carolina Hurricanes when Maurice was their coach. They last worked together at the World Cup of Hockey 2016, Krueger as coach of Team Europe and Maurice as his assistant.

"There's no coach that started as young as Paul did and even though he has the miles, he's constantly looking to reinvent himself," said Krueger, now the chairman of Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League. "Around the World Cup, you could see it, that he knew how to learn and develop. I really have a lot of respect for a leader and a coach of his nature.

"I like to use the word 'humble' for Paul because most of us who stay in a sport too long, we lose that a little bit and fall back to patterns over and over again. Somebody with as many miles in the NHL as Paul, well, he could be saying, 'I've been there and done that and I don't need to work at it anymore.' But he has an amazing work ethic. It doesn't matter if you're in the Premier League or the NFL or the NHL, the ability to keep your work ethic up year in and year out, well, Paul has proven he has that ability. He truly cares about his team and his organization and I am so happy to see him going to the All-Star Game."

Maurice coached the Whalers/Hurricanes during two separate tenures, 1995-2003 and 2008-11. Hartford became the Hurricanes after relocating in 1997.

He also was coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs for two seasons (2006-08).

Video: WPG@DAL: Lemieux and Connor score 21 seconds apart

Maurice coached the Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup Final, where Carolina lost in five games to the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings had nine members of the Hockey Hall of Fame (Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Dominik Hasek, Igor Larionov, Niklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan and Luc Robitaille), as well as Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman.

"I believe that when the puck dropped [for the start of the Final], the payroll for the six players on the ice against us was bigger than our whole team's," Maurice said. "We had a few good players, but we clutched and grabbed our way to the winning the conference championship. We beat Toronto (in the Eastern Conference Final) doing it. That was grinding, hard, defensive details all that time. And that's fatigue.

"[Now] it's fun to spend some time on the offensive zone. So the game for me is so much better than it was."

Maurice's hiring in Winnipeg on Jan. 12, 2014 may have led to his biggest self-reinvention.

He agreed only to finish out the 2013-14 season when he was hired to replace Claude Noel. On April 16, five days after the Jets' season ended, Maurice signed a four-year contract, buying into the plan of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to focus on building a skilled team through drafting and developing.

Maurice had not gone this route before, becoming a teacher as much as a tactician.

"The Winnipeg experience, from a draft point of view, has been spectacular," he said. "There are guys who haven't turned pro yet that have been at one or two camps that I'm pretty sure are going to play. Maybe there's not a [center] Mark Scheifele kind of deal where you come in and you're going to be a star, but there are good NHL players coming here.

The Jets already are loaded with younger talent at the NHL level. Center Jack Roslovic and forward Brendan Lemieux, each 22, and center Mason Appleton, 23, each is pushing for playing time. Forwards Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers (out with a shoulder injury), each 22, and 20-year-old Patrik Laine are mainstays.

Video: MIN@WPG: Laine buries one-timer for PPG

Maurice said the most obvious lesson in coaching is a simple truth: Players make the coach.

"The players we've drafted here have come in and been able to produce at a young age," he said. "That was absolutely not the case 20 years ago; well, at least it was rare."

For all his experience, Maurice said he is mindful about what's relevant from his past.

"The people experiences and the ups and downs of the team experiences are all more and more valuable as I go," he said. "I'm starting to appreciate the value of my experience where I don't think I [used to]."

Krueger said he is convinced there will be no danger of satisfaction for Maurice or the Jets after reaching the Western Conference Final last season, losing in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights.

The two friends caught up in October when the Jets traveled to Helsinki to play the Florida Panthers in the 2018 NHL Global Series. Krueger said he was impressed with Winnipeg's focus.

"They're so hungry to win," he said. "It was fabulous to feel that vibe and hunger. He has built a good staff around him there. A lot of people think coaching might be magic but sometimes success is plain old-fashioned hard work with modern training and system approaches.

"The journey they're on is exciting. Paul has reinvented himself at the highest level of the game with a team that can compete."

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