The idea that the Paul Maurice was not in Maple Leafs players' good books didn't wash with one of them.
"Not at all," said Matt Stajan, one Leaf who improved under the guidance of Maurice. "If that was the case, we would have rolled over. But we kept playing our hardest and that all started with the coaching staff. We were still playing meaningful games late in the season."
Of course, what the players thought of Maurice had little to do with whether he would continue coaching the Leafs. The club's inability to make the playoffs in two years with Maurice at the helm, coupled with a new management team that may or may not be in place soon, numbered Maurice's days behind the bench.
"A lot of people thought a new GM would want his own guy, but it is still not good to see Paul go," Stajan said. "He was really hard on me in his first year but that really helped me develop."
The Leafs have lumped themselves into a group of NHL teams that need a coach, one that includes the Ottawa Senators, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers. Speculation is rampant that the Tampa Bay Lightning will tie the can to John Tortorella and Marc Crawford could be on thin ice with the Los Angeles Kings. Ditto for Ted Nolan with the New York Islanders and Alain Vigneault with the Vancouver Canucks.
Possibilities also might include Bob Hartley, Pat Burns and John Anderson. The names of Dale Hunter and Peter DeBoer also have been thrown into the void.
"You have to crawl before you can walk," interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said when asked if he had a preference for an experienced coach or a young one, even though that decision will not be made by him. "The type of person I would like is one who is strong with young players and can take the team to the next level.
"I think the coaching job of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the plum in the NHL. And I feel that any serious candidates won't mind marking time a little bit until our situation is resolved."
Maurice is not sure what his hockey future includes.
"I'm not in that kind of push right now," Maurice said. "There are a lot of different ways to get your name out there. There are no secrets in the league. There are only a handful of jobs available and only a handful who can do them."