Maurice remains upbeat

Coach Paul Maurice put the team through a gruelling number of skating drills.(Michael Peake,...

Coach Paul Maurice put the team through a gruelling number of skating drills.(Michael Peake, Toronto Sun)

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:28 PM ET

DALLAS -- For many National Hockey League players, coaches and managers, U.S. Thanksgiving means being grateful for keeping your job.

The proximity of the American holiday to the quarter mark of the hockey schedule means changes for struggling teams and some individuals do not survive. Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon found that out yesterday getting the onion instead of dressing and gravy. He was replaced by ex-Leaf Bruce Boudreau, the Caps' farm team coach in Hershey.

Tonight, the Maple Leafs play a Dallas Stars team that fired general manager Doug Armstrong last week, split the job between assistant Les Jackson and Brett Hull and gained eight points the past five games. Armstrong is a friend of Leafs general manager John Ferguson, who cited Armstrong as a positive influence when taking the Toronto job in 2003.

Naturally, the hot-and-cold efforts put forward by the Leafs prompted rumours that Ferguson or head coach Paul Maurice -- or both -- would not survive a prolonged slide. But even if there is a Plan B, no one in power is ready to pull the trigger.

Ferguson, assistants Jeff Jackson and Doug Gilmour and development coach Paul Dennis are on this two-game road trip.

Maurice yesterday gave a brief eulogy for Hanlon, the second NHL coach fired this season, but dismissed the notion that any employees feel safer when the turkey and leftovers are gone and the goodwill of Christmas approaches.

"I think a while ago, yes, but not so much (in the new NHL's CBA)," Maurice said. "You don't hear as much talk and there's not as much action."

Indeed, most trade banter has been just rumours so far. Many salary cap-strapped teams such as the Leafs have eliminated themselves until the Feb. 26 trade deadline when buying and selling is made easier, at least for some expiring one-year deals at reduced cost.

"Young guys are getting (big) contracts everywhere and clubs are waiting to see how it's all going to work," Maurice said.

Winger Chad Kilger, who has played for six different NHL teams, said the players aren't worried about any Thanksgiving superstitions.

"It's not as bad as the nervousness you get at the trade deadline," Kilger said. "It's just a date that falls at the same time a lot of teams make evaluations, changes and adapt to new things."

The Leafs passed the quarter mark last week having just got most of their team healthy for the first time this year, but after four out of five games where they gained at least a point, a 4-2 loss to Boston on Tuesday was a definite setback.

Maurice knew what he was in for after that. A surge of criticism directed at him, another sign the honeymoon is over with the fans if he can't keep the Leafs in the playoff hunt.

"It's still the best job in the world," he insisted approaching his 105th game behind the bench tonight.

"I can't think of coaching in the NHL now and not being in Toronto.

"The media is so passionate, so opinionated and so sure of themselves and (the fans) work a nine-hour and expect to do mine on the side. I don't know how they get my e-mail, but I made a line change recently and got an e-mail within two hours from someone who said 'that's what I've been saying you should do.' "


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