Playoffs are Paul's priority

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

Paul Maurice does not know for whom he is auditioning and seemingly he doesn't appear to care.

There are six games left in this Maple Leaf season -- quite possibly the final six he will coach in Toronto -- and the odds, still, remain terribly stacked against both him and the Leafs.

"If given a choice between coaching six games and keeping my job or making the playoffs and losing my job, I'll take making the playoffs and losing my job," Maurice said rather affirmatively yesterday.

The thing is, he may not have a choice or an opportunity to determine any of that. This is the uncomfortable and unfortunate position he finds himself in. The Leafs are playing the best hockey they have played in his two seasons of what he once called his dream job, but nothing is guaranteed.

Not his tenure. Not his future. Not the post-season. The Leafs can win all six remaining games and still find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. The Leafs can win all six and still he may not have a place to coach next season.

All of this is out of his control and there is nothing coaches like better than having control. That is the dilemma of sorts for Maurice. The more that seems lost -- his job, his team, the health of his players -- the better the Leafs perform. The less chance he has of being re-signed for next season, the more valuable a coach he appears to be.

To his credit, Maurice does not want any of this to be about him. He gives props to Vesa Toskala, the best of former general manager John Ferguson acquisitions, for all that has been done in goal. He gives props to Mats Sundin, and all he has accomplished. He gives props to the leaders du jour, Matt Stajan and Alex Steen. He even gives heartfelt props to the Frozen Five, who made a commitment to stay in Toronto when most Leafs fans would have preferred otherwise.

But he takes no bows himself. Even as he has shortened practices. Even as he has given the team days off when he felt they needed them. Even as he relaxed the atmosphere of what was a terribly tense team in the final Ferguson days. Even as the defensive coverages have become more disciplined and the special teams a little more special.

Maurice may not be a candidate for coach of the year in the NHL but he may well be a candidate for coach of the final quarter-pole. Few teams have played harder, more desperate, and shown more resilience than the dead-in-the-water Leafs.

They could have done a Tampa Bay. They could have pulled a Los Angeles. And yeah, it stinks that they won't get a lottery pick and couldn't get the prospects and draft picks the Frozen Five would have brought in return, but in the high-priced entertainment district they play in, they are providing entertainment.

Maurice, like most of us, has no idea who the next general manager of the Leafs will be. Ostensibly, that man, whomever he is, will determine whether he wants Maurice to coach this team any longer.

A few months back, the sentiment might have been easy. The team seemed lost and disposable: So did the coach.

A CASE TO BE MADE

Now, it's not so apparent. There are small signs of progress. There is a case to be made for keeping Maurice. Again, not knowing who will be running the team and what his philosophies and opinions may be, it's impossible to even speculate on whether even a solid case gives him any chance of returning.

At least now he has earned some consideration. You have to give him that much. The Leafs begin a home-and-home series with Boston tonight. By Thursday, those two teams could be tied. By Thursday, a team other than the Leafs or Bruins could be eighth in the Eastern Conference.

There is no way of knowing this in the late-season charge of winning and scoreboard watching. The Leafs have to win at home and on the road, often now on the very same nights.

That is somewhat magical as has been the late run of the coach who likely is running out of time.

Some firings are just. Some are necessary. Some are circumstantial. Paul Maurice has six games left to summarize his case. Typically, time is running out.


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