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A Year Ago, the Florida Panthers Hired Paul Maurice. Good Move



Panthers maurice
Paul Maurice, right, is introduced as the new coach of the Florida Panthers by GM Bill Zito at FLA Live Arena on June 23, 2022, in Sunrise. // Photo @ColbyDGuy

On June 23, 2022, the Florida Panthers formally introduced Paul Maurice as the 17th coach in franchise history.

While many bemoaned the team bypassing popular interim coach Andrew Brunette for the veteran coach, things certainly worked out for both Maurice and the Panthers.

It was not always smooth sailing, of course, but it ended up being a pretty good move.

When the Panthers’ 2021-22 season came to a close with a second-round sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, general manager Bill Zito vowed not to make any rash changes.

“There are still jerseys in the dryer,’’ Zito said.

In the month that followed, Zito spoke with a number of people around the league and ended up calling Maurice.

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As Maurice tells it, he had just spent four days fishing in Canada when a strange  number came up on his phone. It was Zito.

The two ended up talking with Maurice flying down to South Florida for a few marathon skull sessions with Zito, members of the front office and owner Vinnie Viola.

Maurice ended up impressing them enough that he was offered the job.

He took it.

“In the first 15 or 20 minutes of talking, I felt the fit here. It has been a great experience,’’ Maurice said at his introductory press conference.

“I don’t know how much you’ve talked to Bill, but he can jack you up about hockey. I was in a lather and ready to go about an hour into the meeting. That is what drives me and that’s what I love. I want to be around smart, passionate people. …

“It’s not just about winning, it is about building a destination franchise for the fans and not just the players we can draw here. The passion comes out very quickly. I was all in.”

Said Zito: “We took some time and then we did our internal review. And it was a prudent responsibility to the organization to say, ‘OK, let’s look to the outside.’ We had talked to a few people and when we spoke to Paul, it was overwhelming. His mastery of the game, his presence, the way he communicated with us, in tandem with his record and the way he succeeded in communicating the game to us.

“You can tell his intellect right away, but is emotional side — his E.Q. — in how conveyed ideas … quite frankly overwhelmed us.”

Maurice was brought in to try and implement a new style of playing and get away from the free-wheeling, end-to-end style which brought them so much success the past couple of seasons.

Save, of course, in the playoffs.

Even Maurice’s biggest critics could see the difference in the Panthers during this postseason as compared to those of the past.

Yet things did not get off to a great start as the team struggled with consistency and was four points out of the playoffs at the trade deadline.

“I felt he got the most out of the guys on our team when I was with him,” said Eric Staal, who was a rookie in 2003 when he first met Maurice with the Carolina Hurricanes.

“I think this is a great opportunity for him and for these guys. He is experienced, he is demanding, he knows what he wants out of guys and it’s going to be a good two-way street for this group.”

Zito kept the team as it was at the deadline, saying he believed in them.

He also said he believed in Maurice even as fans were ready to tear down the arena as the Presidents’ Trophy winning team had been near the bottom of the standings during the winter holidays.

This season was definitely a struggle between various injuries, illnesses and salary cap constraints.

“We had to fight to get into the playoffs,” Maurice said in an understatement.

Few could have pictured what the Panthers would do in the playoffs in January and February — mainly because many did not think they would make it in the first place.

“I think he has been fantastic,’’ Zito said in March. “Our record on the ice is not as good as where it was, but when you look at where we were — $8 million in salary cap deadspace — that means players.

“He came in trying to harness the energy and put it into defense and structure as opposed to a freewheeling style. That is hard to do. It is hard to teach, it is hard to get people to buy into, understand and execute. He did it with excellence at a high level and it is a process. …

“When we interviewed Paul, you could tell he was the right fit for this group. He is. He is teaching and the individuals are improving. It is coming. I take no solace in knowing we would like to be higher up and be in a better place. But it is coming. He is implementing the systems that need to be implemented because the real goal is winning the Stanley Cup.’’

Many of those fans who were calling for the heads of Maurice and Zito obviously changed their tune as Florida finally put things together at the end of the season to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

Once there, the Panthers rallied from a 3-1 hole to upset the Boston Bruins in the first round before taking down Toronto and Carolina en route to the Eastern Conference championship.

While the Panthers were disappointed with losing a chance at winning the Cup against the Vegas Golden Knights, there is no way to deny that the past couple of months were special indeed.

And Maurice gets a lot of credit for that.

“You know, I am privy to day-to-day things that others do not see,” Zito said on Wednesday afternoon. “You would not have been able to tell, in our locker room on October 15, November 15, December, January…March, you could not see a difference in Paul. He was the same coach, the same guy.

“Nothing changed. We were down, ‘Ok we’re down.’ Down a few points in the standings? ‘Ok, no problem.’ It was that same leadership, the same … I use emotional intellegence when I talk about Paul. He does a great job of — and I am going to steal and paraphrase this from one of our players: He physically smashed us in training camp but never emotionally. He built them up.

“To see that every day during the season was a real blessing to me. He continued to have confidence and it never waned. It was just reinforced. During the hard times is when you need the character. He was the third coach in three years with a completely different defensive system. … Change is hard, it takes a while. He just maintained, was even keel the whole time.”

Florida Panthers coaching history

Roger Neilson 1993-95

Doug MacLean 1995-97

Bryan Murray 1997-98*

Terry Murray 1998-2000

Duane Sutter 2000-01*

Mike Keenan 2001-03

Rick Dudley 2003-04*

John Torchetti 2004*

Jacques Martin 2004-08

Pete DeBoer 2008-11

Kevin Dineen 2011-13

Peter Horachek 2013-14*

Gerard Gallant 2014-16

Tom Rowe 2016-17*

Bob Boughner 2017-19

Joel Quenneville 2019-21

Andrew Brunette 2021-22*

Paul Maurice 2022-present

(*) — Indicates midseason replacement


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