Paul Maurice is back in the Cup final, and Panthers determined to make him a champion


SUNRISE, Fla. — It was Dec. 17, 2021, and Paul Maurice truly believed that he was done with coaching in the NHL. He was fourth all-time in games coached, sixth all-time in wins and thought he would be perfectly content with letting his career end right there.

So, he resigned as coach of the Winnipeg Jets. He was finished. He was never going to win a Stanley Cup.

“It’s time,” he said that day.

He meant it, too. That is, until the Florida Panthers called. Turns out, Maurice was wrong. It wasn’t time. His two seasons with the Panthers have given Maurice two trips to the Stanley Cup Final; Florida lost to Vegas last year and opens this year’s title series against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.

“As you age, you get a different perspective on life and what’s important and valuable,” the 57-year-old Maurice said Friday. “I need to win one. No, it’s not going to change the section of my life that’s not related to hockey at all. But that’s the truth. That’s how I feel. I’m 30 years into this thing. Wouldn’t mind winning one.”

Including playoffs, Maurice has 935 wins as an NHL head coach; only Cup winners Scotty Bowman, Joel Quenneville and Barry Trotz have more. Maurice’s next win will break a three-way tie for fourth that he’s currently in with Lindy Ruff and another Cup winner, Ken Hitchcock. And only Bowman and Quenneville have coached more games than Maurice.

His resume is nearly beyond compare. But without a Cup, it won’t seem complete. And the Panthers want to be the team that gets his name etched onto hockey’s best trophy.

“We want to win for every guy in the locker room,” Florida forward Steven Lorentz said. “Coach has been around a long time. He’s seen a lot of hockey behind that bench. Very smart, very talented coach. Gets the Xs and Os, but he gets his players just as much. It’s easy to play for a guy like that. He demands a lot, but going out there and playing hard and winning is the most rewarding thing. And it’s the best when he comes into the room after and he’s just as fired up as the guys who were out on the ice.”

Maurice is smart, sarcastic, profane, funny, thoughtful and more. All good things. He takes playful jabs at reporters and then points the jabs at himself; his gem at Stanley Cup media day on Friday was that he showed up to take over a Florida team that was coming off a 122-point, Presidents’ Trophy-winning season.

“I managed to get them down to 92 in one year,” Maurice said. “Brilliant.”

Nobody’s complaining, for obvious reasons. The Panthers won the East last year, won it again this year. Florida didn’t have a chance in 1996 against Colorado and got swept; the Panthers didn’t have much of a chance last year against Vegas because of injuries. This team has a chance, certainly a better one than it had in its first two Cup final appearances.

Same goes for Maurice, who got Carolina to the final in 2002 and lost to Bowman and Detroit in his first time on the title-round stage.

“He’s been really good for us,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He teaches us a lot about how to play hard, how to be a professional hockey player. Obviously, we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with him, but he just knows how to manage those situations, whether we need to get yelled at or don’t need to get yelled at, he knows, every time, what to do.”

Maurice is also a true hockey guy in this sense: He doesn’t want credit for much of anything.

Don’t ask him about goalies; he says he doesn’t know anything about the position. Don’t give him credit for in-game line shakeups; he’ll say he had to do something. He keeps his speeches short and sweet, wants players to lead in the locker room and points out that even on the days when his team is at the practice facility for hours he’s only directly involved with them for a few minutes apiece, at the most.

This isn’t about him. It’s about them.

“You’re all (expletive) brilliant,” Maurice said when the Panthers beat the New York Rangers to win the East title, “and I love every one of ya.”

With that, he walked out of the dressing room. There was a Cup final to get ready for.

“I’m going to know when this thing’s all over either how good I got or how good I was,” Maurice said. “I won’t need somebody else to tell me that or to value my career. I’m not saying I’m going to value it really high. I have a pretty good idea of the job I’ve done. Yeah, I’d really like to win one.”

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AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://www.apnews.com/hub/NHL



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