Maurice a good hire

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:16 PM ET

Back in 1995, when the 28-year-old Paul Maurice was hired to coach the Hartford Whalers, Keith Olbermann was one of the sports anchors on ESPN.

A headshot of the youthful Maurice was shown, then Olbermann deadpanned that the new coach was not available for comment because it was a school night.

This anecdote is mentioned to help put Maurice's career in perspective. He is a young man who is still learning.

Therefore, when criticisms are voiced with regard to some of the characteristics he displayed during his tenure with the Whalers and their transformed entity, the Carolina Hurricanes, it is wise to keep in mind that he has evolved.

He was pegged, for example, as a purely defensive-minded coach.

First of all, that was the era for such an approach. The New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995 with a stifling, put-the-fans-to-sleep defence, and in hockey, success breeds emulators.

Rightly or wrongly, every coach sees himself as being hired to win, not to entertain.

Furthermore, Maurice inherited a fairly bad team. The Whalers did not need to auction off any Stanley Cup banners when they left Hartford.

With that kind of team, in that era, a defensive posture was the only one that made sense.

And at the time, the team was transient. It had left Hartford, but its present-day arena in Raleigh wasn't ready. So the games were played in Greensboro, in front of small crowds that didn't know hockey and didn't really care about it.

There has also been some concern about the won-loss records of Maurice's teams. The numbers show that he's under .500.

But again, he had weak teams. And one really bad year --- the injury-plagued 2002-03 season -- brought the average down even further.

He did, however, get one of those mediocre teams to the Stanley Cup finals, a claim which no recent Toronto Maple Leafs coach can make.

But the most prevalent criticism of Maurice was that he was not a particularly good communicator. This is where the youth comes into play. He knows he's young enough to learn, and he's more than willing to embrace the concept.

Maurice took that criticism to heart and acted upon it. It may have been true then. It's not true now. Those who played for him on the Marlies last year have nothing but praise for his communication skills.

Those who played for him in Carolina have nothing but praise for all his other coaching skills.

And whether you liked Pat Quinn or not, you have to concede that communication was not his strong point. For that matter, neither was game preparation. Or willingness to learn and adapt to changes in the game.

Quinn was once a great coach. His records show that. But the game evolved and Quinn didn't. He couldn't be bothered to match lines or pre-scout the opposition or draw up opponent-specific game plans. But 21st-century coaches do all of those things -- and a lot more besides.

Under Maurice, the veterans on the Leafs will be expected to perform in the manner that allowed them to become veterans. The youngsters will be given specific assignments, told what to expect from the opponents, encouraged when they do well and corrected when they do wrong.

There will be a sense of accountability. If you deserve to play, you will. If you don't, you won't.

Maurice, because he realizes that he still has something to learn, will listen to his players. He'll learn from them, just as he has learned from so many others.

General manager John Ferguson has made a number of mistakes during his tenure in Toronto. But the hiring of Maurice goes a long way to making up for all of them.


Videos

Photos