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2009-10 Canes Country Exit Analysis: Paul Maurice

Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice giving instructions at practice. (photo by LTD)

Last year we did not have an exit review for Carolina's head coach but several readers have requested one for this season. Of course, Paul Maurice did a great job for the Hurricanes in 2009 as he led them to the Eastern Conference Finals. But this review is for a less successful 2009-10 campaign in which the team started off with a disastrous first two months of the season in which they tied a franchise record 14 game losing streak, (0-10-4).

There are always some factors which are out of a coach's control. Joni Pitkanen started the season in the press box with a sore knee. Eric Staal was playing through an injury from the beginning. Erik Cole broke his leg in the second game. Cam Ward had injury issues. Tuomo Ruutu also missed several games. You can not pin injuries on any coach.

But some of the important issues the coach is responsible for include: designating playing time for players, deciding which line players should be on, setting up the type of system the team employs, and determining who gets to play on special teams.

How did the coach do in these areas?

(more after the jump)

Let's start off with some background.

Maurice is often introduced as the winningest coach in franchise history. His NHL career started as head coach of the Hartford Whalers during the 1995-96 season. Back then, he was at the very young age of 29 and was the youngest coach in the NHL for a period of time. The Canes let him go in December of 2003 as the club hired Peter Laviolette, but Maurice was re-hired in a surprising move when the team released Laviolette in December of 2008.

Maurice has coached a total of 813 games for the Hurricanes and has compiled a record of 336-347-99-31. Including his two years in Toronto, his lifetime NHL record in 977 games is 412-413-99-53. His record in 53 career playoff games is 25-28.

The coach will probably always be compared to Laviolette, Carolina's other head coach who brought the Stanley Cup home to the promised land. Both coaches have differences in philosophies and while Maurice has more franchise wins, Laviolette has the better lifetime winning percentage. Regardless of philosophies, it is acutely obvious that ownership and upper management prefer to work with Maurice, perhaps for better or for worse.

Now, let's look at last season:

The Good: After what looked like a lost season altogether, Maurice helped to turn the team around as they had one of the best records in the NHL from January 1 on, (25-12-3). After recognizing that some of the older players were not performing on the powerplay and on the top lines, he reduced their ice time and played players like Jussi Jokinen and Brandon Sutter, more often. He rotated younger players in the lineup without placing too much pressure on them and in most cases, they played well and should have gained confidence for the coming season. Before and after the trade deadline period, he helped the team to easily transition and keep winning as a plethora of veterans were traded away.

Maurice is usually even-keeled and is easy to speak with and work with. He keeps his ego in check and always seems open to suggestions from his crew of assistant coaches.

The Bad: If a coach receives some credit when things go right, then he must also take some responsibility when things go wrong. Not only were the first two months of the season bad, they were a total disaster as the Canes sunk to last place in the league. While Maurice made the changes listed above to help turn things around, perhaps he was too slow to make those changes. One major concern was that the team seemed to repeatedly allow multiple goals in a row. (Both Atlanta and Buffalo scored 5 consecutive goals in third periods and in several other games there were goals scored within seconds of each other).

Maurice is often criticized by fans for what seems to be his conservative, defense orientated system. When he returned to Carolina in 2008-09, it appeared that he employed a "hybrid" system of sorts, which allowed the team to attack frequently, as well as attempt to be more defensively responsible. But last season, (perhaps due to injuries and personnel), the team seemed more content to stack up in the neutral zone and wait, especially if they had the lead.

The strategy to ride your number one goalie hard and often is not an unusual one, but backup goalie Michael Leighton was obviously rusty the few times he had a chance to play for the Canes. Perhaps Cam Ward could have or should have rested on a couple of the early season back-to-back situations where he played both games?

The Money: The monetary terms of Maurice's contract were not released, but he is entering the second year of a three year deal he signed in the offseason of 2009.

Discussion: What do you think were good points and bad points of Maurice's coaching for last season? How would you grade his overall performance?