Is Paul Maurice a Good Coach?

It seems the common wisdom and general consensus amongst the Toronto media and fans is that Maurice is a decent to good coach and is not to blame in any significant way for the Leafs woes this season. But is Paul Maurice really a good coach? I personally don’t think so.

A lot of people point to how Maurice took the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup finals in 2001-02 as evidence of his good coaching ability. Certainly he has to be given some credit for that but on the flip side if we assume that the Leafs won’t make the playoffs this season Maurice coached teams will have missed the playoffs in 7 of 10 seasons. That isn’t a record to be proud of or one that I would consider evidence of good coaching ability. Add to that his 7-12-8-2 record in the year he was fired in Carolina and you could easily argue that his historical track record is quite horrible.

But let’s take a closer look at what he has done with the Leafs. In 2005-06 the Leafs were coached by Pat Quinn and finished the season with a 41-33-8 record narrowly missing the playoffs. This Pat Quinn team featured a defense that included Alexander Khavanov and Aki Berg neither of whom played another game in the NHL and who were essentially replaced by Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill. Regardless of what you think of the contracts given to those two players you all have to agree that Kubina and Gill are vast upgrades over Berg and Khavanov. Also on the Pat Quinn team was Jason Allison and Tie Domi who haven’t played another game in the NHL and Eric Lindros, who had one more largely unsuccessful campaign in Dallas before retiring. In essence that Pat Quinn team that ended up with 92 points had 5 fringe players on the roster 4 of whom never played in the NHL again but Quinn managed to get them to 92 points.

But the following season Maruice took an improved team (on paper) from 92 points to 91 points and a 40-31-11 record. That was followed up with this season where Maurice essentially has the same team as last year with better goaltending (Toskala) and a 40 goal scorer (Blake) and turned the team into a team on pace for 76 points. Something doesn’t seem right.

But what may be more of a statement against Maurice is what he has done with the Leafs special teams. In 2005-06 under Quinn the Leafs power play was one of the best in the league with a 21.4% success rate while the PK% was 80%. In Maurice’s first season the power play dropped to 17.7% and the penalty kill to a near league worst 78.5%. This season the Leafs powerplay is a dreadful 13.9% (only the Blues are worse) and the Leafs penalty kill is 78.5% (only Carolina is worse). A huge part of the Leafs problems this season and last can be attributed to their bad special teams play. This is nothing new as Paul Maurice coached teams have rarely had good powerplay or penalty kill percentages. In the year he took Carolina to the Stanley Cup finals the Hurricanes were 20th in the league in PK% and 12th in the league in PP%.

In summary, seven of ten Maurice coached teams missed the playoffs, Maurice coached teams have poor special teams play, and Maurice led a more talented Leaf team to fewer points than the less talented Pat Quinn team. Is Maurice a good coach? The evidence says certainly not.

This article has 13 Comments

  1. It was Aki Berg… not Bill. Bill Berg was a forward for the Leafs during the Pat Burns years. He now does Leafs Lunch for the Fan 590.

  2. Doh! Of course it is Aki. Bill Berg is the guy Pat Burns said he wouldn’t know if he ran him over with a truck. Turned out to be a good player for the Leafs though.

  3. While I concur on the Defense comments, Gill and Kubina should be superior to Berg and Khavanov… although really it should be Khavanov and Richardson you compare them to… Berg was the 5th D man, not the 4th.

    That said, the difference in Salary is notable. Aki Berg was paid $1,064,000 his last season in the NHL; Alexander Khavanov was paid $1,250,000 his last season in the NHL. Hal Gill is being paid $2,075,000 and Pavel Kubina is being paid $5,000,000. That’s a difference of $4,761,000.

    While the two are upgrades, I’m not sure their higher level of play makes up for the loss of one or two high level forwards at that price.

    Jason Allison made $1.5 million, Eric Lindros earned $1.55 million, and Tie Domie earned $1.25 million. That trio alone cost $4.3 million, which is still less than the difference mentioned above.

    Berg, Khavanov, Domi, Lindros, and Allison had the following combined average stats:

    0.12 goals, 0.25 assists, -0.15, 1.09 PIMs, and 1.01 hits. It should also be noted that Khavanov blocked 2 shots a game and Berg blocked 1.3.

    They also all chipped in 16 goals specifically on the PP.

    For MORE money, Kubina and Gill have contributed the following average stats:

    0.06 goals, 0.36 assists, +0, 1.04 PIMs, and 1.54 hits. Kubina has blocked 2.56 shots a game, and Gill has blocked 1.86 a game.

    Frankly the comparison is a wash, and statistically the two D men we currently have are superior by a long shot… though I don’t know if they’re worth more than 5 players as a group.

    The main distinction for me between the Leafs now and the Leafs prior to Paul Maurice is how they are noticeably softer.

    In Pat Quinn’s last season, the Leafs had 7 players land 100 hits or more. They had 15 players who averaged more than a hit a game. This years Leafs have 9 players that average more than a hit a game.

    Tomas Kaberle is becoming LESS physical. He has gone from averaging 0.67 to 0.46 hits a game. He’s gone from blocking 1.75 shots a game to blocking less than 1 a game.

    Alex Steen has gone from 1.3 hits a game to 0.82. He’s gone from 0.53 blocked shots to 0.36 per game. What’s happened to his presence?

    Stajan is going in the RIGHT direction… he’s gone from 0.45 hits to 1.13 hits a game. He’s also gone from 0.5 blocked shots a game to 0.625 blocked shots a game. HE is improving in the more minor aspects of the game.

    Perhaps Kaberle and Steen are paying less attention to the defensive aspects of the game? Who knows… just tossing out some issues that may not be cropping up in the day to day press clippings.

  4. When evaluating Maurice you can’t look at individual players salaries. Salaries are irrelevent. What matters is whether on a player by player basis is this current team more talented than Pat Quinn’s team of 2005-06. The answer is almost certainly yes. The defense is better and the goaltending is better. But for some reason this team is going to end up ~15 points less than Pat Quinn’s.

    I think you are hitting the nail on the head when you talk about a softer team. I have commented on this before. This team doesn’t have an identity. They aren’t a hard hitting team, nor are they a skilled team, nor are they a defensive team, nor are they a great special teams team, nor are they a great 5 on 5 team, nor are they a consistent hard working team. Pat Quinn’s Leafs teams could be identified as hard working and never give up attitude. They weren’t the most skilled team, they weren’t the best defensive team, but more often than not they were the hardest working team that stood up for each other and took pride in putting in an honest effort. Darcy Tucker was a perfect example as on more than on occassion he challenged the entire Ottawa bench. This season Tucker has hardly been noticable in most games. Whether Maurice is just unable to motivate his players or whether Tucker just can’t play like he once did in Maurice’s system I don’t know. But what I do know is Maurice is not getting the most out of this team and based on his historical track record he hasn’t gotten much out of most of his teams outside of one or two seasons in Carolina.

  5. I think you are correct about Tucker. After the season I’m sure we will find out the reason, but he certainly isn’t the Tucker of old. Even a bit of Sideshow Bob would liven things up. You can’t leave things to guys like Newbury and Ondrus to make a statement.

    As for Maurice, you also have to look at things you can’t find in stats. Like keeping a just-back-from-a-groin-injury Toskala in a blow out to spare Raycraft’s feelings. In a road game.


  6. i agree that salary should not be compared because in most cases the coach is not responsible for choosing which players play. he is given a roster and has to make due with what he has.

    special teams is a good comparison. good coaches have god systems and set plays. another stat would be comebacks. a team that wins alot down after 2 would be a well coached team.

    BUT the blame shouldnt be put squarely on maurice. his assistants are a big part of it. usually its the assistant who gets control of a unit. i know montreal’s PP is coached by doug jarvis. a coach is only as good as his staff.

    it does look like maurice is losing control of his team. hes not motivating his players and he gives them impression hes soft. he looks anything but a strict disciplinarian. and it looks like the leafs are playing soft.

    hes still young so i wouldnt say hes a “bad” coach. but he definately has room for improvement and id say another team will hire him when he gets canned from TO

  7. The coach usually chooses his assistants so he still deserves blame there if his assistants are inadequite.

    Maurice is young and that may be part of his problem, but he does have 10 years of NHL coaching experience so inexperience can’t be an excuse. He has more NHL experience than many coaches in the NHL.

  8. Personally I feel Maurice is not that great of a coach. While he had success at the AHL level…he has not at the NHL level. Like many players…it is possible that his coaching ability is just suited to the minors…there is nothing wrong with that…but what he has shown me (and all hockey fans) is that he is not an NHL caliber coach.

    A few major concerns I have with his coaching style are-

    -He does not roll all four lines. More often than not he only plays 2.5-3 lines on a regular basis…totally avoiding the fourth (no matter who is currently on the line). Possibly this is a reason for late game collapes…as the players are always tired by the end of the 3rd??? I personally think Maurice does this because he is constantly scrambling to get the team back into games, that he doesn’t have time for his fourth liners. He also has stated he does not enjoy the physical aspect of the game (fighting in particular…therefore no need for tough 4th liners)…which leads me to my second point

    -lack of team unity and toughness. there is no character on his current team (Leafs). Every well coached team brings players together as one…unfortunately the leafs do not have that this year (or in previous years)…that is partially due to egos on the squad and partially because of coaching. If Sundin at any time were involved in even something as little as a shoving match while I was coach, I’d expect 4 other players showing up to his aid in a flash (whether they were tough players or not). It wouldn’t be a question…and if you chose not to step up by your captains side? There is a nice piece of bench for your butt. Maurice though, holds no one accountable…and as a result…the Leafs are a weak joke. It hurts me to say…but I don’t think even a group of nuns would be afraid of the Leafs in an after the whistle scrum.

    -Thirdly…Maurice rides players that he likes (especially his AHL’ers)…despite the fact they aren’t NHL quality. This is simply something he has done…and its going to hurt him…he can ride Woz and Pohl right out of a job.

    -Fourth…Maurice is not a disciplinarian. Poor play, weak efforts, stupid penalties should not be rewarded with more ice time, they should receive the opposite. While there are exceptions to that rule, Maurice believes in leaving lines on the ice after weak goals, not benching players, and dresses players who constantly make brain farts…no one is going to learn if you just keep treating them nicely…like when is Maurice going to learn he needs to mix it up a bit.

    -And my ultimate beef with his coaching style is…the constant line shuffling. Seriously, how is anyone going to get in a groove if they spend less than 2-3 shifts in a row together. Give players 5+ games and see how things are going…if they are still stagnant, than mix it up…but rarely does a complete game go by and the lines haven’t been juggled at least two to three times. It’s a sign of desperate coaching…

    Overall…I’d rate Maurice in the bottom half of current NHL coaches…he can’t control his players…he makes poor decisions behind the bench….his personnel decisions are questionable to say the least…and he has fostered a lazy, unmotivated, lack of toughness mentality with no repercussions…which I believe is directly responsible for the current state of the Leafs. While JFJ had no idea what he was doing (bad contracts, poor signings/trades etc)…it is Maurice that is responsible for the on ice product. I hope he enjoys the rest of his season…because next year it will be back to the minors for him…until he learns how to be a proper NHL coach.

  9. I always had great respect for Pat Quinn. He was able to take Leafs teams that were, IMO, stocked mostly with mediocre players and make near-contenders out of them. Not to mention Sens-killers. 🙁

    Quinn had a talent for getting synergy out of teams — the whole was more than the sum of the parts.

    Comparing Maurice to Quinn in that respect is unfair. Where Quinn did a great job in TO, Maurice could do a merely good job and still look bad in comparison, because he can’t inspire mediocre players to make the playoffs.

    Ironically, if it hadn’t been for the prodigious talents of Quinn and Sundin, the Leafs could be five years into a rebuilding program by now and look more like the Penguins or Hawks than what they are today.

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