For the second time, Paul Maurice has failed as the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina’s first (and third) bench boss has driven the ‘Canes into the ground, and with no indication that he is capable of bringing them back to their championship ways, it’s time to fire him once more.
A year after missing the playoffs by two points, the Hurricanes have taken several steps back in the early portion of the 2011-12 season. They currently accompany the Islanders in the basement of the Eastern Conference and have allowed the most goals against in the league.
Fans have grown apathetic for the first time since this franchise immigrated below the Mason Dixon line; boos rain down from the stands of the RBC Center on a regular basis these days, and “Mo Must Go” chants were heard towards the end of a brutal 2-1 loss to the Jets on Friday.
When Maurice addressed the media following the demoralizing loss to Winnipeg, he had no answers for his team’s medicore play.
“At the end of the day they were faster and stronger than we were and we weren’t able to do anything with that,” he said monotonously. “We shouldn’t be an overly confident group, so you have to make up for it.”
He then decided it was a good time for a cop-out.
“Part of it is that we’ve played more games than anyone else in the NHL.”
Excuses, excuses. This team has been bad all year, long before their schedule became tiring.
What’s gone wrong?
Maurice’s deficiencies have become transparent. Veterans seem to get a free pass with him, as Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky continue to log big minutes despite their blatant inadequacies while younger players take a back seat. His constant line-juggling has given the ‘Canes very little chance to develop chemistry with one another. Maurice actually made the right call in moving the struggling Eric Staal to right wing, only to push him back to center several games later despite the captain’s improved play. The “Skins & Finns” line of Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu was far and away the most productive line Carolina’s had this year, but they’ve been broken up. Neither Jokinen nor Ruutu has a goal since their coach decided split apart the one good thing he had up front.
One of the biggest and most consistent criticisms of the Hurricanes this season has been their lack of emotion on the ice. They need a passionate, fiery coach who they can emulate. Maurice isn’t that guy.
Sending the right message
Perhaps most importantly, keeping Maurice on board sends a bad message to the fans. The Carolina market has matured by leaps and bounds since Coach “Mo” was first told to pack his bags eight years ago. The locals have become far more educated on the sport over the years and have seen their team win the Stanley Cup — they will not settle for mediocrity. Their growing apathy could ultimately drag the franchise down into the stereotypical depths our Northern brethren expect from sunbelt hockey teams, but a proactive attitude and sense of commitment can easily prevent that.
Given Maurice’s recent track record, owner Pete Karmanos would come off as apathetic if he were to keep his current coach for the remainder of the season, a decision that would undoubtedly anger the masses. Yes, it’s inconvenient for a cash-strapped team such as Carolina to pay two head coaches to do one job, but Karmanos’ financial woes will reach new levels if the team continues its current path.
Attendance will nosedive; money will be lost; payroll will decrease; the on-ice product will suffer. It’s a very negative cycle that could continue for a long time.
Who can replace Maurice?
The biggest issue with firing Maurice is the lack of available replacements on the market. No one is going to come in and save the day a la Jacques Lemaire, but a foundation can be established for the future and a fresh face could bring a much needed spark to this organization.
Jeff Daniels, the head coach of the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s AHL affiliate) has certainly paid his dues in the minor leagues and has as good of an understanding of the Hurricanes as anyone. Dave Lewis is also an option. Currently serving as an assistant under Maurice, Lewis has three years of head coaching experience in the NHL. He led the Red Wings to Central Division championships during both of his two years as the bench boss in Detroit.
To me, allowing Lewis to take over in an interim role makes the most sense. He has a good enough track record to potentially turn the ship around, and promoting from within will save the team money.
Regardless of the replacement they choose, firing Maurice would be considered progress. He’s never going to bring the Stanley Cup back to Raleigh, and the sooner he’s gone, the faster everyone can move on.
Follow me on Twitter: @andrewhirsh
Andrew Hirsh is a graduate of Elon University and is entering his fourth year as a credentialed NHL writer. He founded SunbeltHockey.com in 2012 and serves as the site’s managing editor. Andrew can be reached via email at email@example.com.