Friday, May 12, 2006

Leafs finally name their coach

In typical Maple Leaf fashion, they left their preferred candidate seemingly dangling for a couple of weeks, while they went through what John Ferguson Jr. called “process”. I’m not sure what exactly process is, but I assume it means answering the phone and telling successive NHL teams that Paul Maurice is not available for interviews.

Finally today, the Leafs announced the name everyone expected to hear on April 20th the day that Ferguson fired Pat Quinn, that of Paul Maurice. Maurice the now past coach of the Leafs farm club the Marlies and a former head coach of a team currently fighting it’s way towards the final four playoff showdown the Carolina Hurricanes, was introduced to the anxious media throng that is Toronto and handled himself quite well in the vipers den..

It’s been said that Maurice was destined to be the Leafs coach the day he signed on to be the Marlies steward, and towards that it does make sense; or at least as much sense as anything the Leafs seem to do these days. Maurice will have had a season long view of just what’s available in the farm system, if players chose not to perform for him in the AHL; they can pretty well kiss their NHL dreams goodbye. He also comes back to the NHL with some unfinished business to attend to, leading a team to a Stanley Cup final.

His former team the Hurricanes are playing a strong style of hockey right now, and it wasn’t that long ago that he was the architect of that teams on ice persona, a good omen for long suffering Leafs fans, desperate for a return to the Stanley Cup dance they last saw in 1967.

Even more promising for Leaf fans, is the style of play Maurice hopes to bring to the Air Canada Centre, pointing to the likes of Buffalo, San Jose and Anaheim as teams that have adjusted well to the new NHL, the new head coach would like to have his team produce a similar effort and perhaps reap the same kind of rewards as well.

The “process” that Ferguson followed apparently included interviews with Marc Crawford and Andy Murray, but in reality that must have been just courtesy calls, it was apparent to most that Maurice was the guy destined to take his place behind the leafs bench, the 26th coach of the storied NHL franchise.

It’s a good thing that Ferguson finally brought his process to a close; there are no shortage of coaching openings in the NHL now and probably a few more to come in the next few weeks. Maurice was a much in demand commodity and with a clause that would have allowed him an exit if the Leafs took a pass on him, he probably wouldn’t have been on the bench for long.

Compared to the way the Leafs handled the Quinn and Ley firings, (the press conference turning into an inquisition and John Ferguson left standing at the podium like a deer in the headlights), today’s hiring announcement was the thing of a Revival meeting, all that was missing was a circle of hand holding scribes and TV guys and a few choruses of Kumbaya.

As for the hockey team on the ice, there will be a new direction in Toronto now, old veterans and players heading towards their last contracts probably won’t be finding the Leafs as a receptive place for their agents’ calls anymore. Youth will be served for the next phase of the Leafs quest for Stanley. And if the words between the lines are correct Mats Sundin will be finding more ice time and can refrain from pondering retirement for at least a few more years.

Maybe this time for Leafs fans, the right guy, is in the right place, at just the right time!

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