Leafs looking young at heart

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:46 PM ET

The Maple Leafs' first under-40 general manager/ coaching duo is armed with the youthful optimism of their Beatle-era birthdates and the club's best young prospects in years.

But John and Paul -- as in Ferguson and Maurice -- know their team must get back on playoff track, or the former's own dwindling contractual lifespan could be cut by next spring. At least Ferguson enters this last year of his deal as general manager having hired his own coach, not inheriting someone 26 years his elder, beholden to veterans and very much set in his ways.

"Our relationship is only going to get much more in depth, much more familiar and productive," Ferguson said yesterday as he promoted Maurice from the Marlies farm team 22 days after he fired Pat Quinn. "We look to set a foundation for years to come.

"I will not undermine Pat. I signed him to a two-year extension (in the lockout year) for all the right reasons. This isn't about compare and contrast for me."

According to sources, the 39-year-old ex-Carolina Hurricanes coach is here for three years, plus a club option, worth between $750,000 to $800,000 US per season. Ferguson, roundly criticized for misreading the "new" NHL and missing the playoffs, is down to one season at around $450,000-$500,000.

"It doesn't change the opportunity to succeed," Ferguson, 36, said. "I'm three years more experienced today and understand better what we need to do. This hiring is the first step in a critical number to put us back where we have to be."

The next step is hiring assistants and a new AHL coach. Quinn's surviving assistant, Keith Acton, could get either post. Maurice has ties to his Marlies aides Joe Paterson and Dallas Eakins, but also might look at old pal Peter DeBoer of the Kitchener Rangers or ex-Carolina assistant Randy Ladouceur.

Ex-Leaf and former Pittsburgh Penguins head coach and Ed Olczyk inquired about the Toronto job, but might get a look with the Marlies. Ferguson, who moved on Maurice 19 days before an escape clause kicked in, did not dispute that Marc Crawford and Andy Murray were interviewed as part of a due dilligence process.

Following a rough ride from fans and media after gutting the popular Quinn, a visibly relieved Ferguson chuckled along as the witty Maurice charmed a packed Air Canada Centre press conference yesterday.

"I want to enjoy this, because I didn't really enjoy my first years in the NHL," Maurice said. "I was 28, I knew I was in way over my head. (Hartford Whalers GM) Jim Rutherford said: 'We'll let you work through it,' hence the (losing record) the first three years. With all the things that went on -- the move to Carolina, (the death of Canes' defenceman Steve Chiasson) the move from Greensboro to Raleigh ... my sense of humour is probably a way of relaxing myself."

But Maurice built a Stanley Cup contender, beating Quinn and the Leafs among others en route to the 2002 final.

He grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, heavily influenced by the Detroit Red Wings, having played junior in Windsor and starting his coaching career with the OHL's junior Red Wings. But this isn't Detroit, and it certainly is not Carolina.

"In any profession, you want to work for (the big company), or the big newspaper and you want to coach the big team," Maurice said. "That's the Maple Leafs. I know it's not always going to be friendly, but it's something I wanted, so I can't be complaining when (coverage) isn't favourable."

Maurice is already looked upon favourably for setting up a pipeline of emergency callups to the Leafs this past season, particularly on defence. Using some of Quinn's logic, he says the up-tempo style the Marlies played is what he wants the Leafs to emulate in 2006-07.

"Four or five years ago, there were 26 teams playing a version of the 1-2-2 trap," Maurice said. "When you talk about the teams left in these playoffs, the game has changed. You're starting to see the hitting coming back. I'm very excited, but it's the players who are going to have to get this done."

But don't expect him to dole out Leafs jobs next year to the nine Marlies who played at least one NHL game for Quinn. The AHL club was 13 games over .500 after early December, but was a first-round playoff casualty.

"They don't get an extra benefit from my knowing them," Maurice said. "They have to re-invent themselves every summer. They're young men and we made it very clear in our exit meetings that they have to come back in far better shape, for the Leafs or Marlies."

---

THE DEAL WITH ... MAURICE'S COACHING RECORD

REGULAR SEASON

SEASON TEAM G W L T OTL

1993-94 Detroit, OHL 66 42 20 4 --

1994-95 Detroit, OHL 66 44 18 4 --

1995-96 Hartford, NHL 70 29 33 8 --

1996-97 Hartford, NHL 82 32 39 11 --

1997-98 Carolina, NHL 82 33 41 8 --

1998-99 Carolina, NHL 82 34 30 18 --

1999-00 Carolina, NHL 82 37 35 10 0

2000-01 Carolina, NHL 82 38 32 9 3

2001-02 Carolina, NHL 82 35 26 16 5

2002-03 Carolina, NHL 82 22 43 11 6

2003-04 Carolina, NHL 30 8 12 8 2

2005-06 Toronto, AHL 80 41 29 4 6

NHL TOTALS 674 268 291 99 16

PLAYOFFS

SEASON TEAM G W L

1993-94 Detroit, OHL 17 11 6

1994-95 Detroit, OHL 21 16 5

1998-99 Carolina, NHL 6 2 4

2000-01 Carolina, NHL 6 2 4

2001-02 Carolina, NHL 23 13 10

2005-06 Toronto, AHL 5 1 4

NHL TOTALS 35 17 18


Videos

Photos