Paul Maurice might one day become the next coach of the Maple Leafs, but he went to lengths yesterday to insist that if that is the plan, he has no knowledge of it.
"Everything that has gone on is speculation and I don't expect anything," Maurice, the coach of the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, said in the early afternoon, about the same time Leafs general manager John Ferguson announced officially the firing of Pat Quinn.
"You are going to ask me questions there are no answers to."
But Maurice didn't hesitate when he was asked whether there was an agreement, either on paper or verbally, between him and Ferguson made that he would one day succeed Quinn as Leafs coach.
"There was not even anything spoken because how could there be?" Maurice said. "It has never been discussed. I know that this may be difficult for you to believe, (but it's true)."
Maurice is widely seen as Ferguson's hand-picked successor to Quinn, and the Leafs GM has never said Maurice would not be the guy.
"As far as I am concerned, (he is) eight months into the interview process," Ferguson said.
Maurice, 39, was met by a small group of reporters before he boarded the Marlies bus at the Ricoh Coliseum. The club travelled to Grand Rapids, Mich., where it will take on the Griffins in the first round of the playoffs, beginning tonight.
As he did when he first took the Marlies job last year, Maurice insisted yesterday he was not viewing the position as a stepping stone to get back into the NHL.
"I took this job because I have already reached that goal of coaching in the NHL," he said. "This has been a great challenge and a really enjoyable one. There is nobody trying to get my name out there. I am happy right now where I am."
In December 2003, Maurice was fired as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, 18 months after they eliminated Quinn and the Leafs from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference final.
But some people tend to forget that Maurice was below .500, at 268-307-99, in his tenure behind the Carolina bench. After the Hurricanes ousted the Leafs in 2002, they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final.
No matter how Maurice spins it, he is viewed as someone who is not far from being in the NHL again. Even one of his Marlies, defenceman Brendan Bell, spelled it out fairly plainly yesterday.
"The reward with the Leafs, if he ends up there, is our loss with the Marlies," said Bell, one of the vastly improved players under Maurice, said. "I think he is not an AHL coach. We were just very fortunate to have him this year."
Maurice, a Sault Ste. Marie native, made one thing clear: He and his family have no interest in moving from their home in Oakville. They wouldn't have to if he was named Leafs coach.
"I will say this," Maurice said. "My family comes first and we are really happy here. The move back to Canada was a great one for my kids."