After weeks of searching, the Florida Panthers have landed on a coaching decision. In a somewhat surprising move, the team chose Paul Maurice to be the Florida Panthers head coach. Maurice replaces interim coach Andrew Brunette, who lead the team to a 51-18-6 record since taking over last season.
This move comes as quite a shock to the Panthers faithful, as Maurice was not a name floated around during the hiring process. Still, the organization views Maurice as someone who can take the team forward. Here is what he brings to the organization.
Paul Maurice’s coaching history
Paul Maurice has been a head coach in the NHL for 24 years. His most successful season came in 2002 where he took the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final. Most recently, Maurice spent the past nine seasons as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. In those nine seasons, Maurice made the playoffs five times. His most successful season with the Jets came in 2018, where he made the conference finals.
Since the NHL has changed drastically in the last five years, it really only makes sense to analyze his last stint in Winnipeg to see what he will offer as the Florida Panthers head coach.
Since the 2017-18 season, the Jets averaged 3.18 goals per game. That places them eighth in the league over that stretch. The team also gave up 2.79 goals per game under Maurice, a figure that places them 10th.
In that same time frame, the power play hovered around 23%, which places them fourth league wide. The Penalty kill had a success rate of around 80%, which is below league average.
The Macro numbers suggest a consistently good offensive team with defensive questions. This is exactly what those Jets teams were. Maurice does deserve credit for implementing a system which allowed his offensive talent to thrive. However, the same defensive lapses plagued his teams year after year with little adjustments from him. The Jets became predictable and it ultimately led to his ousting there.
Maurice’s fit with the Panthers
The Panthers wanted experience with their new coaching hire, and Maurice has plenty of experience. This Panthers team can also be thought of as an upgraded version of Maurice’s Jets. Both are gifted offensively and lack the lockdown defensive ability of many of the perennial cup contenders. In this sense, the learning curve shouldn’t be too steep for Maurice as he adjusts to his personnel.
Still, Maurice will need to change some things if he wants to be successful as the Florida Panthers head coach. For instance, the Penalty kill needs to be sharper. Too often in Winnipeg were the Jets caught flat footed leading to good scoring chances for their opponents.
The Panthers had similar problems last year. The virtue of a veteran coach is the ability to make adjustments quickly and seamlessly. Hopefully Maurice can provide this, but it was not apparent through many of his seasons with the Jets.
Another, and perhaps larger, problem is his handling of personnel. Specifically, his reputation as an authoritarian. Players such as Patrik Laine have been at odds with Maurice in the past, and it led to Laine demanding a trade. Much like former panther coach Gerard Gallant, Maurice tends to favor grizzled veterans over promising youngsters, which stunted the growth of many players in Winnipeg. Could the same happen to players like Anton Lundell and Spencer Knight in Florida? Only time will tell, but that could be disastrous for the franchise.
Ultimately, I do not think this was the right hire for the Panthers. Part of what made the team special last year was how much the players loved playing for Andrew Brunette. Every single one raved after the season about how much they loved him as a coach and how much they wanted him back behind the bench.
Of course, the flameout in the playoffs left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. It certainly led to management’s decision to change coaches. Still, to abandon what the team had been building together after just one playoff failure is not the mark of a good organization.
Think about the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2019. After a 62 win regular season, they suffered an embarrassing first round sweep to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite this, the team made no drastic moves in the offseason. Jon Cooper returned as the coach and the core remained the same. They grew together and won the next two Stanley Cups.
Why the Panthers did not try to emulate the Lightning in this sense is beyond me. Great teams become great through continuity. Coaches, like players, are capable of growth. Bruno looked outmatched in these playoffs, no doubt, but not having the patience to stick with him and let him make mistakes portrays a palpable lack of trust that the players are certainly affected by.
Keep in mind this is not an indictment of Paul Maurice as a coach. He has a proven track record of success in numerous circumstances and his experience has value. But the damage done by uprooting the leader of this team outweighs the potential schematic improvement that Maurice can provide.
Andrew Brunette should have been the coach again. The team was absolutely dominant during the regular season due in large part to the work of Brunette. The Panthers did not need a change of direction, they just needed more time to learn. I do hope I am wrong, but I think this was the wrong decision.
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