TORONTO (CP) - The Toronto Maple Leafs put their AHL farm team in the care of former Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice on Friday.
The move was more than just an AHL coaching hire. It's part of GM John Ferguson's planning for the NHL's new economic landscape, where drafting and developing players will take on a more important role given the financial constraints around the corner.
Draft picks will no longer be thrown away for big-ticket stars with big-ticket salaries. Those draft picks must now become players the Leafs will count on down the road.
That's why Ferguson hired former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button last year as one of the Leafs' professional scouts. Button is a respected hockey mind who has a sharp eye for talent and will help the organization beef up its talent depth.
Appointing Maurice head coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies can also be read as another effort by the Leafs to beef up their player development portfolio.
"Absolutely," Ferguson said at a news conference. "He has earned that big name through his record, his experience, and at one point being the longest tenured NHL head coach. And he's still only 38 years old. And yes, this is an area that we have chosen to re-allocate our funds and invest wisely in our future.
"Paul, really, in so many ways, is an organizational asset that we identified and we have now procured."
So while the Leafs can no longer outspend other teams on player salaries, they can certainly throw their cash around elsewhere. And one can assume Maurice will likely be among the highest-paid coaches in the AHL next season.
Maurice, who led the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup final, succeeds Doug Shedden, whose contract was not renewed after last season, when the AHL club played its last year in St. John's before moving to Toronto for next season.
There could have been NHL offers down the road, and there still may be, but Maurice said he was sold by Ferguson on the idea of coaching the Marlies, the idea of developing players the Leafs could later count on when it mattered.
"I think 20 minutes into the conversation I was very interested," Maurice said of his interview with Ferguson.
He first talked to Ferguson at the IIHF world championship in Austria last month before formally meeting with in Toronto earlier this month.
"It became clear to me that he was not only my first choice, he was absolutely the right person for this position," Ferguson said. "He becomes a critical component in our development plan. And his NHL experience, his discipline, his character - he's a tremendous asset to this organization now and in the future."
In the end, the fit is right on many levels. Maurice gets to move his young family back to Ontario - he's a native of Sault Ste. Marie while his wife is from the Windsor area. And just as important, Maurice couldn't see himself sitting through next season waiting for an NHL offer.
"Before meeting John my thought was: 'Be patient and wait.' But you know, I didn't want to spend a year of my life like that," Maurice told reporters at the Air Canada Centre. "I've seen guys go through it, watching games on TV, hoping for some poor fellow to lose five in a row and then praying for your phone to ring. I don't want to live like that.
"This clearly is the best place for me, no question."
He's believed to have signed a four-year deal and insists he won't jump ship at the next NHL offer. Perhaps that's because he's in line to replace Pat Quinn down the road, when the 62-year-old Leafs head coach decides he's had enough.
The worst-kept secret in hockey is that Quinn has signed an extension with the Leafs, an announcement that should come shortly.
"It's all about timing," Ferguson said. "Pat's not here this week. It'll be done in the right environment very soon."
Still, it begs the question, did Ferguson just hire Quinn's replacement?
"Paul's proven that he's an exceptional NHL head coach," Ferguson said of Maurice, who coached 674 games with the Hartford/Carolina franchise become getting fired in 2003.
"We've hired our coach for the American Hockey League. And we're certainly proud to have Pat going forward. That deal is done. We couldn't have a better situation at both levels right now."
-referenced from www.sportsnet.ca