SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Sault native Paul Maurice is the new coach of the Florida Panthers, agreeing on a deal Wednesday to take over a club coming off a season where it had the best record in the NHL and rewrote the franchise’s record book.
The 55-year-old Maurice will be introduced Thursday morning, the Panthers said.
Maurice will replace Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette, who could remain with the organization if he chooses to do so.
Brunette took over early last season following the resignation of Joel Quenneville, who had to step down after the revelation of how the Chicago Blackhawks mishandled abuse allegations brought by a player during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. Quenneville coached Chicago at that time.
TSN first reported that the Panthers and Maurice were finalizing an agreement.
Panthers general manager Bill Zito, in a statement released through the team, said Maurice's hiring came after “an in-depth examination of all aspects of our team."
“After taking the appropriate amount of time for analysis, we determined that we needed the perfect fit to continue with the growth of our players and stay on the path for our franchise goals,” Zito said. “Paul’s experience and intellect were just what we were looking for and we are thrilled for him to step into the role of head coach.”
The Panthers will become the fourth franchise that Maurice coaches. He started in Hartford in 1995, two seasons before that franchise relocated to Carolina. He coached Toronto for two seasons before returning to Carolina, then spent nearly nine years as coach in Winnipeg before stepping down there in December.
“I’ve pushed as long and as hard as I can here. I love these guys. They need a new voice, and I know that," Maurice said when he left Winnipeg.
Now six months removed from that decision, Maurice is also getting a new start with a team that believes it is a Stanley Cup contender.
Florida won the Presidents' Trophy this season and reached the second round of the playoffs, winning a postseason series for the first time since 1996. Brunette was a coach of the year finalist in his first head-coaching stint at the NHL level, finishing as runner-up to Calgary’s Darryl Sutter for the Jack Adams Award.
That wasn’t enough to get him the job long-term, nor was support from Panthers players, including captain Aleksander Barkov among others.
Instead, the Panthers are turning to Maurice — who is fourth on the NHL’s all-time games coached list with 1,684, seventh on the all-time wins list with 775, but has never led a team to the Stanley Cup. He got Carolina to the title series in 2002, but the Hurricanes lost in five games to the Detroit Red Wings.
Florida, over the last three combined seasons, ranks second in the NHL in wins (130) and standings-points-per-game (1.35) — behind only Colorado on both of those lists. The Avalanche have 137 wins and average 1.41 standings points per game over that span.
The Panthers also set team records this season in numerous categories, including wins (58) and goals (340). Jonathan Huberdeau became the first Panthers player with a 100-point season, the team went 34-7-0 at home, started the year with eight consecutive wins and added a 13-game winning streak later in the season.
Florida wound up getting swept by Tampa Bay in the second round, and a month later, Maurice has now been brought on-board to see where he can take the Panthers next season and beyond.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press