Raleigh, NC --- The firing of Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice on Monday morning wasnt much of a surprise. A change was bound to happen, it was only a question of when.
Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford and Maurice have a close relationship that extends some beyond hockey, so this was going to be handled with respect for Maurice, who has given the franchise much of his professional life.
In two stints as the head coach of the Hartford Whalers-turned-Carolina Hurricanes, Maurice led the team for 920 games, going 384-391-145. Much of the franchises culture, which it takes seriously, comes in part from Maurices work.
But it was time for a change. The Canes needed new life and a new direction.
Carolina needed a new voice in that room, as he often called the locker room. The players respect Maurice, who became the youngest coach to reach 1,000 NHL games last season at 43, but his message wasnt getting through anymore. The team has fallen on hard times, dropping 12 of their last 15 games. And despite a brief uptick last week, there havent been any indicators suggesting this thing was going to turn itself around, even though the players held out hope, or were speaking the company line a week ago.
If we keep playing the same way were going to turn this around, Brandon Sutter said following a home loss to Montreal last Wednesday.
The Hurricanes had been reduced to picking out positives in close defeats because there had been precious little else to draw from. But by last Fridays home loss to Winnipeg, Maurice sounded like a dejected man.
At the end of the day, they were just faster and stronger than we were and we werent able to do anything with that, said Maurice, whos usually come off as more of a scratch-and-clawer. He later said following the same game, What we did with the puck was foolish, and then we just didnt compete hard enough.
That was it. He knew he was done. It was just a matter of time.
But what went wrong, and why didnt it work?
As for this season, statistics tell a pretty bleak tale for the Hurricanes.
Only three teams in the NHL have fewer than Carolinas 20 points. The Canes are 8-13-4, have the No. 29 power player, No. 21 penalty kill, are 23rd in scoring, and 28th in goals against. The young defense in front of All-Star goaltender Cam Ward has reduced Ward to 39th in goals per game. His average ranking for the previous three seasons was 19th.
Not all of this can be placed at Maurices feet, though.
All-Star center Eric Staal has struggled all season. He has just five goals and six assists through 25 games, putting him on pace for 16 goals and about 30 points. Given Staal has averaged 35.8 goals per season through the first six years of his career, and last year he compiled 33 goals and 43 assists, the 7 million-a-year man clearly isnt delivering as expected.
An even grimier note is that Staal is currently ranked No. 726 in the NHL in plusminus at minus-17.
Extending back to last season, when Staal struggled down the stretch and the Canes failed to reach the playoffs for the second consecutive season, he has managed to light the lamp just 10 times in the last 48 games.
But this isnt Staals fault either. The struggles speak to every facet of the organization. Some offseason player moves have so far backfired Carolina certainly could use Erik Coles speed and aggressive attitude and some of the younger players the team was banking on just havent produced.
It remains the coachs job to get his team focused regardless of any other issues. And in recent weeks, the teams effort has regularly been questioned. A 4-0 loss at Montreal two weeks ago prompted some national media in Canada and the United States to remark about Carolinas effort, preparedness and togetherness.
This is a similar problem the Canes experienced near the end of Maurices first stint as head coach, which ended 30 games into the 2003-04 season, just 18 month after leading the franchise to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
But he was re-hired on Dec. 3, 2008, replacing Peter Lviolette, who originally replaced Maurice. Laviolette, by the way, led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2006.
Adam Gold, a Raleigh area radio talk show host on 99.9 The Fan has covered the Hurricanes since they moved to the Carolinas 15 years ago, was surprised when Maurice came back three years ago.
Maurice was unpopular with fans even after the 2002 Cup Finals appearance because his style was viewed as too defensive and boring, Gold said Monday. You can get away with that as long as youre winning.
Bringing him back in the middle of the 2008-09 season was one of the all-time jaw droppers, to me. Jim knew how unpopular Mo was with fans, so it was shocking that he was willing to take that risk.
It paid off initially. Maurice led the Canes to the Eastern Conference finals that season, but that was with a veteran team, and with the ensuing move to a more youth-oriented team, Maurice just didnt fit in.
The organization certainly gave him a fair chance. Carolian thought about making a move after a blowout loss on the final night of last season kept the team from the playoffs for a second straight season. But they went with Maurice, hoping the team would respond.
They didnt, and a new era will soon commence.