Maurice weathering another storm

Instead of blaming Paul Maurice for losing, 'Canes GM Jim Rutherford points to players and finances.

Originally Published: November 30, 2003
By Al Morganti | Special to ESPN.com

The longest running rumor in the NHL is also tied to the coach with the longest running tenure.

Paul Maurice
Miraculously, Paul Maurice has held his job longer than any other coach in the NHL.
Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice has listened, watched and read about his demise almost since he was hired in November of 1995 with the then-Hartford Whalers. Chart the status of his job security since then and it would look similar to a graph of a stock on the New York Stock Exchange.

There was a big spike in 2002, the year the Hurricanes went to the Stanley Cup final. The upward turn came just months after a win over the Florida Panthers in December, 2001, saved the coach's job.

Since then, the line on the chart has plummeted. The 'Canes began to fall apart last season when they finished last in the league with 61 points, a demise that was attributed to a Cup finals hangover.

But things don't appear to be getting better this season.

Thus, the stories about the last day's of Maurice's regime.

General manager Jim Rutherford is the man who is going to have to pull the lever on such a decision. And at least at this point, he doesn't seem so inclined.

"It's the same voices when we hit some trouble," said Rutherford last week. "The rumors start over again that he (Maurice) is in trouble.

"Actually, despite our record, I can honestly say that our team has played quite well. The problem is scoring goals, and that is a big problem.

"But I don't see it as coaching. And I certainly don't get ANY sense that our locker room has turned off the coach or that there is a lack of effort. Those are things you look for in a coaching change situation.

"For us, this season, it's been lack of goals. If we get what we expect out of Jeff O'Neill, Rod Brind'Amour, just about all our forwards, it's a different story.

"We haven't been able to score goals, and there are so few goals now in this league to begin with, it becomes a huge problem."

Over the past week, the Canes needed back-to-back shutouts by Kevin Weekes to get three points. The entered this week with only 49 goals, or 2.04 goals per game, 28th in the NHL. Even in the current defensive environment, that is not going to win a lot of games.

It's the same voices when we hit some trouble. The rumors start over again that he (Maurice) is in trouble. ... Actually, despite our record, I can honestly say that our team has played quite well. The problem is scoring goals, and that is a big problem.
Jim Rutherford, Hurricanes GM
However, the biggest problem in Carolina is finances. After a decent year at the gate following the trip to the finals, attendance has slipped badly. So it comes as no surprise when the Hurricanes play a team like the Flyers, which has two former Hurricanes on its "checking" line -- Keith Primeau and Sami Kapanen. Throw in Simon Gagne and the line is being paid over $10 million this season. It's not a luxury the Hurricanes can afford.

"I loved Sami Kapanen," Rutherford said, "but a team like Philly can pay ($3 million to Kapanen) on a line like that. We don't have that ability, and may teams don't."

While it sounds like Rutherford is placing the burden of success on the players and finances, remember that often a coach hears that vote of confidence just before the exit interview.

Part of Maurice's survival skills -- or Rutherford's tolerance for losing -- may just be a matter of timing. When he started, Maurice was given plenty of margin for error as a new coach, as the team was revamping in a new market with a temporary home in Greensboro.

This time around, it would be difficult for any team to change coaches if managements truly believe there is a major labor stoppage on the way. It makes more sense financially to hang on to the current coach until the end of the season, then hire his successor when the league begins play again, rather than pay a coach (possibly two) for doing nothing while a new collective bargaining agreement is hashed out.

Whatever happens, Maurice has outlived an astounding collection of NHL coaches. Following is a list of coaches, temporarily promoted assistants, and a few temporary GMs on the bench, who have been either fired, retired, or otherwise replaced since Maurice took over the coaching in Hartford in November, 1995:

Pierre Page (twice), Craig Hartsburg (twice), Guy Charon, Bryan Murray (twice), Curt Fraser, Steve Kasper, Pat Burns (twice), Mike Keenan (four times), Robbie Ftorek (twice), Mike O'Connell, Ted Nolan, Brian Sutter, Don Hay (twice), Greg Gilbert, Al MacNeil, Dirk Graham, Lorne Molleken, Bob Pulford, Alpo Suhonen, Bob Hartley, Marc Crawford, Dave King, Bob Gainey, Ken Hitchcock, Rick Wilson, Scotty Bowman, Ron Low (twice), Kevin Lowe, Doug MacLean (twice), Terry Murray (twice), Duane Sutter, Larry Robinson (twice), Jacques Lemaire, Jacques Demers (twice), Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien, Kevin Constantine (three times), Mike Milbury, Rick Bowness, Bill Stewart, Butch Goring, Lorne Henning, Peter Laviolette, Colin Campbell, John Muckler, John Tortorella, Brian Trottier, Roger Neilson, Wayne Cashman, Craig Ramsay, Bill Barber, Terry Simpson, Jim Schoenfeld (twice), Eddie Johnston, Herb Brooks, Ivan Hlinka, Rick Kehoe, Jim Roberts, Jim Wiley, Al Sims, Darryl Sutter, Terry Crisp, Rick Patterson, Steve Ludzik, Nick Beverly, Mike Murphy, Rick Ley, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ron Wilson.

A coach with nine lives?
You might take note that since Maurice took over the Whalers/Canes on November 6, 1995, Mike Keenan had been hired and fired by the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers. Thus, it would seem pretty amazing that Keenan would resurface against this season, just after being fired by Florida, right?

Well, don't be surprised if Keenan's name comes up if a very good team starts to falter badly. Keenan works best with veteran players who need to be pushed. Would the Ottawa Senators be a fit? There are more than a few glitches in that scenario, however, not the least of which would be the GM deciding Keenan could be the answer. Also, there is the matter that Keenan is very good friends with the present coach, Jacques Martin, dating back to their college days, and then the days Martin served as Keenan's assistant.

Jagr-to-Rangers rumors won't die

Jaromir Jagr
Jagr
The rumors of the New York Rangers having interest in acquiring Jaromir Jagr from the Washington Capitals have a lot of merit.

It is no secret that the Rangers had a whole lot of interest in Jagr before he was traded to Washington and that they're one of the few teams with the bank roll to afford him. In fact, more than a few people in each organization are pondering a deal in which Jagr goes to New York for Eric Lindros. If that were to happen, the Caps wouldn't have a long-term commitment (Jagr has four years left on his contract; Lindros has one), and the Rangers get an offensive player with a fixed salary without having to worry about the bonus clauses in Lindros' contract putting them over a possible salary cap should they decide to keep him.

Part of the issue is how much of Jagr's salary will be picked up by the Caps. Beyond even that, if there is a salary cap in place, which team gets stuck with what part of the salary. If the Caps are picking up $4 million is that $4 million on the Caps' payroll, or the Rangers'? There are many looming questions; many teams believe this one will be answered with some sort of grandfather clause period.

But nobody is sure, so the deal is in limbo and the Caps are stuck with Jagr, the player who was supposed to revive the franchise but could now play a role in burying it.

According to more than few players, the reason popular captain Steve Konowalchuk was moved is that he no longer wanted any part of the team's direction with Jagr, twice asking out of the situation.

As for Jagr to the Rangers, it certainly seems like just a matter of time before Rangers GM Glen Sather gives in to the temptation and calls Washington GM George McPhee. And as soon as McPhee sees the caller ID from Madison Square Garden he will take the call, make the deal, and then spend the rest of the afternoon doing cartwheels on the roof of the MCI Center.

Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN. Click here to send Al a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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