Paul Maurice stunned the hockey world on Friday when he announced his resignation as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.
The 54-year-old had been the team’s coach since January of 2014 and had taken it to the NHL playoffs five times, including the Western Conference final in 2018.
“I came here on a four-month contract and found a home,” Maurice said during a news conference at the club’s home arena. “I love this place and I love this team. This is a good team and I am good coach. Sometimes, you can only push so far.
“I am in a better position than anyone to know they need a new voice. They need somebody else’s help to get to the next place. It’s time.”
The Jets were 13-10-5 and fifth in the Central Division when Maurice stepped down. One of his assistants, Dave Lowry, has been appointed interim coach. Winnipeg was scheduled to play the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the Canada Life Centre.
It would be the first time in 640 games that someone other than Maurice was behind the bench.
Maurice addressed the players in the morning. He said he had found last season especially difficult because of the restrictions caused by COVID-19. He called it a grind and said it was the first time he could remember it not being fun to come to the rink.
“If you lose some of that passion and love for the game, you can’t be as good as you should be, and that’s where I feel I am today,” Maurice said. “I think the team can do better. “They are trying. They did everything I asked them to do. They need to get to a different level.
“I pushed the rock up the mountain for so long, but you can only push it so far. It is the law of diminishing returns.”
Among current coaches only one – Jon Cooper of Tampa Bay – had been in charge of a team longer. Before Winnipeg, Maurice had been the head coach of the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Only Scotty Bowman, Joel Quenneville and Barry Trotz have coached more NHL games than Maurice’s 1,684.
Maurice was Winnipeg’s second coach since the club relocated from Atlanta in 2011. The club failed to qualify for the playoffs in its first three years under Claude Noël. It made them after Maurice’s first full year at the helm.
The Jets went a franchise best 52-20-10 in 2017-18 and made a long playoff run before being eliminated in the conference final by the Vegas Golden Knights. Last year, they swept the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but were swept themselves by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 2.
They started this season with losses in their first three games and then won the next four. But they never quite got into a rhythm and had lost their past two under Maurice.
“We have been consistently under what we should be,” Maurice said. “I felt I had done well and I had done my best. I am tremendously proud of the work I’ve done here. I just couldn’t find the right grab on this team.
“I could have continued, but I would know it wasn’t right. I think a new voice in this town is going to be great.”
Maurice said the decision to leave was his alone. He has had an enduring relationship with Mark Chipman, the executive chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets. He also got along well with Kevin Cheveldayoff, the club’s general manager.
“The driver in all of this is that I am so attached to the guys in this group that I know they need something different,” Maurice said. “This team is going to be good. I love every one of them and I want the best for them and I want the best for me, too. That is why I am here today.”
Maurice said he is unsure if this is the last time he will coach.
“I don’t know the answer to that right now,” he said. “You are a performer, just like your players. You have to be at your peak. The only way I would do that is if I felt I could come back and be better than I was before.”
Maurice was under contract for one more season and had an option for one other year if he wanted to stay. He didn’t, and he is fine with it.
“It was a great day when I got hired by the Jets – for the Jets and for me,” he said. “Today’s a great day, too. For the Jets and for me as well.”