Almost immediately after the last game of the season, at least one sportswriter was calling for Paul Maurice's head. Yet at his end of season press conference, Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said that he felt like his head coach did a good job.
This contrast in opinion seems prevalent among the fanbase as well.
If you were to look at the expectations of the team before the season started, you might agree with Rutherford. Very few, if any experts around the league were predicting that the Canes would make the playoffs. The team had just entered into a transition period as the GM revamped them from being one of the oldest groups in the league to one of the youngest.
The Hurricanes also had one the toughest schedules in the league. The club traveled more miles than any other team and had the second most back-to-back games. Still, Maurice had his team within one game of making it to the postseason.
Did the abilities of the coach push the team to the limit of what they could accomplish? Or did his policies hold them back? Let's take a closer look.
Maurice has been criticized in the past for his inability, or unwillingness, to develop, or play young players. But for the first time in franchise history, a member of the team was recognized as the league's top rookie. Jeff Skinner got plenty of ice time and his game improved, especially in his own end, as the season went on. Another rookie, Jamie McBain, saw his share of ice time as well and he finished fifth on the team with an average of 19:06 per game. The defenseman also improved toward the end of the season.
Just like the previous season, the coach had the team peaking at the right time of the year. The Canes were 7-2-1 in their last 10 and were 9-3-1 in their last 13. They had a respectable 22-14-3 record at home and scored the sixth most goals in the East, (236). The Hurricanes were also near the top of the league in penalties drawn.
The coach is even-tempered and does not lose his cool, he seems open to advice from his assistant coaches, and he did not seem to lose the locker room as most of the team was obviously fighting hard at the end of the season.
Usually this coach and GM are on the same page, but even Jim Rutherford was not happy with the number of games, (74) that Cam Ward played last season. Even though the team had a losing record in the second half of back-to-backs, that didn't stop the coach from starting Ward in most of them. The Canes allowed more shots than any other team in the league and allowed the10th most goals in the East, (239).
While the Canes drew a lot of penalties, their powerplay could have been more effective and finished 24th in the league at 15.9%. The penalty kill was a bit better at 81.2%, good for 20th in the league. For most of the season, the club was abysmal in the faceoff circle but did show a little improvement near the end as they finished at 44.6%, good for 29th in the league.
The coach also gets criticized for not playing his fourth line enough and Troy Bodie, (6:49 average) and Jerome Samson, (6:51 average) will testify to that. When Patrick Dwyer and Jiri Tlusty moved the the fourth line later in the season, they saw their average ice time drop off as well.
"Mo" usually has his teams playing well at the end of the season, but his clubs almost always get off to a slow start. Clawing your way from the back of the pack is usually not a recipe for success and that will need to change this year or his job could be in serious jeopardy.
Maurice is in the final year of his three year deal and that makes him very vulnerable if the team disappoints early this coming season.
Sidebar: Forever .500?
The coach has the stigma of being labeled "average" because of his lifetime .504 record. But his team earned 91 out of a possible 164 points last season for a .555 percentage. The previous year he was .488 and his first year back in Carolina he finished .623. Can an "old" coach learn new tricks? He seems to be improving as his three year average of .548 since back in Carolina is significantly higher than his lifetime average.
How does that stack up against some other notable NHL coaches? During the same time frame, (last three years), Jacques Martin has a .546 winning percentage, Marc Crawford is .516, Terry Murray is .565, John Tortorella is .542, Barry Trotz is .583, and Ron Wilson is .488.
Wilson's .488 winning percentage while in Toronto is much worse than Maurice's .530 while he was coaching the Leafs.
Last year, the majority of you gave Maurice a grade of "C" after the disappointing 2009-10 campaign. What do you have to say this time around? Did I leave out anything? Please let me know in the comments.