Former Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice finds a fit in Florida

After stepping down as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 17, 2021, Paul Maurice was introduced on Thursday as the 18th bench boss in the 29-year history of the Florida Panthers franchise.

Maurice succeeds Andrew Brunette, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year who finished as a runner-up to eventual winner Darryl Sutter of Calgary.

Brunette guided Florida to a 51-18-6 record and a President’s Trophy as NHL regular-season champions, replacing Joel Quenneville just seven games into the season. Quenneville resigned on Oct. 27, 2021 following a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss his role in the Kyle Beach affair while Quenneville was the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks.

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Florida went into the Stanley Cup playoffs as one of the favourites, but after knocking off Washington in six games in the first round, the Panthers were swept in Round 2 by arch-rival Tampa Bay.

Maurice told reporters during his introductory news conference that he received a phone call from Florida GM Bill Zito about a week and a half prior to the announcement of his hiring.

“That’s where the process started,” Maurice said. “And then I get off the phone and I’m ready. You walk into a room, you talk to a bunch of men, they tell you their plans — and they’ve got them. They have a plan if this happens, a plan if this happens and they’re ready to work. And you’re going, ‘I wanna be a part of this.'”

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Maurice said it was probably in mid-January that he was just channel hopping and landed on a Panthers game.

“I’m not studying the game, I’m just doing what we all do, just flipping for some action and Florida’s on and I’m watching them play and said to my wife, ‘That’s a good team.’ And she says, ‘Does that interest you?’ ‘Yeah, that team interests me,’ and left it.”

Maurice said the next piece of the puzzle was his youngest son getting accepted at the University of Miami in the fall.

“So I don’t say a word — not one word to him. You’ve got some other great schools — further north — we’re in about five feet of snow in that point of time,” joked the man who is the seventh-winningest coach in NHL history going into his 25th big league season with a record of 775-680-99-130 in 1,681 games with Hartford/Carolina, Toronto and Winnipeg.

“I’m thinking, hey, this could be good. You go to Miami, gotta bring Mom down to see you, this is going to work out well. But even with that, I don’t know about the fit.”

Obviously, concern over that last item became a non-issue for Maurice, who answered questions about where he is at just six months after stepping down in Winnipeg because he no longer felt he was the right man to get the Jets over the proverbial hump.

“I know that I wasn’t producing at a level that I  expected myself to produce,” admitted the 55-year-old Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native. “I expect myself to have an impact in the room and to be able to change things and push things. Unless you’re winning Stanley Cups, or driving right to that edge, I think the coach’s window is about six years.”

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It says something for Maurice as a coach, and a person, that he was behind the bench of the same team for parts, or all, of nine seasons each in his first and most recent jobs. But in Florida, the Panthers have progressed to a point where the expectation is for ultimate success, and Maurice is well aware of that.

“And it was a Cup run, it just ran way too short for everybody’s liking,” Maurice said of Florida’s second-round exit. “And certainly that is the aspiration of where we want to get to. But we can’t make a Cup run in October, or in training camp. So what we have to do from Day 1 on a daily basis is prepare in that work. And that has to be our focus.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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