Maurice will be back in NHL

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

MONTREAL -- As far as conventional wisdom goes, the most sought-after coach for the National Hockey League is Brent Sutter.

The hockey world might not agree. As hockey people see it, the prime target is Paul Maurice.

"Based on people I've talked to, he's going to be back in the league next year," one general manager said. "I'm not saying he'll get the Toronto job, but he's going to be back somewhere."

At the moment, Maurice coaches the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and as such, is the property of the Maple Leafs.

But any minor-league coach worth his salt has an escape window that allows him to seek employment elsewhere shortly after the conclusion of the AHL playoffs.

Leafs general manager John Ferguson gave Maurice a ringing endorsement at the news conference announcing the firing of Pat Quinn, but went no further.

Instead of introducing Maurice as the Leafs' next coach, Ferguson simply said he ranked Maurice ahead of the other candidates.

But if Ferguson continues to procrastinate, he may lose Maurice. Sources say that the Vancouver Canucks have him in their sights to replace Marc Crawford. And the Los Angeles Kings are giving him consideration as well. Before long, other coaching jobs may open up -- the Boston Bruins' gig being a strong possibility.

And while Red Deer Rebels coach Brent Sutter is highly regarded, some general managers see Maurice as a better choice.

Even though Sutter has done a superb job at the junior level, he never has coached in the NHL, an altogether different world. Furthermore, Sutter has strong ties to central Alberta. There are nagging worries that if he is forced to re-locate, he always may be pining to return to his roots.

Maurice is a proven commodity whose stock has risen steadily since he was fired by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003.

The man who did the firing, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford, explained his decision.

"He had a long run," he said. "It was nine years. Unless you're coaching one of the top teams in league like the Detroit Red Wings, that's a very long time."

There is a consistent theme in discussions of Maurice's abilities.

"He is a very good coach," Rutherford said. "He's very well prepared."

Aaron Ward, one of the Hurricanes who was with the team in the Maurice era, has nothing but praise for him.

"If you talk to the guys who played for him and ask them, 'Did you improve as a player under Paul Maurice?' I think 100% would say, 'Yes,' " Ward said. " 'Did you enjoy him as a coach?' 'Absolutely.' "

As for his own relationship with Maurice, Ward said, "I loved him. I always wanted to call him after he was done, but you don't know, as a player, if it's appropriate to say, 'You know what? I really enjoyed playing for you. You did a lot for me,' because it sounds kind of like a eulogy."

There are some in the Toronto organization who feel that Maurice is an excellent teacher but may not be as valuable to older players.

"He helps mid-age players mature to that point that they can find their niche in the league," Ward said. "He's great at that. I can tell you that."

Kevyn Adams, the ex-Leaf who came to the Hurricanes when Maurice was coach, echoes Ward's sentiments.

"I think he was one of the best coaches I've ever had," he said. "He was one of the most prepared coaches. He gets the team ready to play every night. He's a great motivator and he has a great feel for the pulse of the team.

"He's a guy who is one of the best-kept secrets out there."

Not among the hockey hierarchy he isn't.


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