Have Paul Maurice’s struggles as a Winnipeg Jet followed him to Florida?

There are a million terrible Facebook quotes preaching the benefits of reconciling the past and focusing on the future. I’m going to acquiesce to what most people do nowadays and completely ignore Facebook.

Paul Maurice was trending on Twitter recently, and it resurfaced some buried angst concerning his tenure with the Winnipeg Jets. By all accounts Maurice is an affable guy, and a media darling. His track record as a coach however is debatable.

Superficially, the Florida Panthers going from President’s Trophy winner last year – to bottom third in the league under Maurice is not a good sign. Compounding matters, the Winnipeg Jets have dramatically improved with a full offseason without their beleaguered coach. Scrolling through “Florida Twitter” is a swampland, but the hockey-related content looks all too familiar: fire Paul Maurice.

Is it warranted?

Things are not working out with Paul Maurice in Florida

Maurice is the 6th winningest coach in NHL history (2nd active), and his Stanley Cup appearance with Carolina highlights his coaching superlatives. He also has the most losses in NHL coaching history, and in 24 seasons, only nine of Maurice’s teams have made the playoffs with four making it out of the first round.

Maurice also holds the lowest winning percentage (.527) of any coach in the top 25 of “games coached”. Proponents argue that most of those losses were accrued as the head coach of a talent-deficient Whalers/Hurricanes club. Detractors will highlight that regardless of talent, the job of a head coach is to get the most from the least. I believe both positions are fair.

It is tempting to view the above as clear evidence that Paul Maurice is no longer an effective head coach. A more discerning look reveals other factors at play here.

What is going on in Florida?

Looking at his short stint in Florida, not a lot has gone right. Injuries to key players, bad goaltending, and lack of continuity have all contributed to the Panther’s slow start to the season (although they did have 14 returning players). A look at the underlying metrics reveals a team that is underperforming and having a bit of bad puck luck.

For years, the Jets survived by excelling at 2 things: Shooting percentage and ‘save percentage above expected’. Both these benchmarks are almost completely bereft of coaching. Maurice is getting neither in Florida.

It is difficult to isolate the single reason for Florida’s poor showing thus far this year. Their shooting percentage is down by 2% which is statistically significant, but the biggest contributor is likely special teams. A hockey team’s ‘system’ is often harder to figure out than a Don Cherry monologue, but what we do know is that special teams’ prowess is a direct product of a coaching system and/or philosophy.

Royce Dickson-Child of FL Teams compiled the following:

In his 18 full seasons as head coach, both of Paul Maurice’s special teams have performed under the league average five times. As of right now, in his 19th season, it is the sixth such occasion. 44% of seasons, his power play has underperformed, and 56% of seasons his penalty kill has underperformed. Only five seasons, though, have both units performed above league average. Paul Maurice’s teams on average have performed right down the middle when it comes to special teams.

Last season, Florida enjoyed a successful 24.4 PP% and a 79.5 PK% under Andrew Brunette. This season, the Panthers have plummeted to a 19.1 PP% and a 75.5 PK%. That is a total decline of 9.3% on special teams.

So, what is the verdict?

Prior to Maurice’s resignation from the Winnipeg Jets, it had become clear that the team was underperforming under his leadership. He acknowledged so himself. The talent was there (on paper at least) but the results were not. To whatever extent the rumors are viable, Maurice left a team that was struggling to find its identity.

Given his struggles in Florida and the dearth of special teams’ production, we can confidently say that his recent spate at head coaching has not fared much better. Based on the preponderance of the evidence, Paul Maurice is now a below-average NHL head coach.

I believe that the game has grown and evolved past the point of his effectiveness. While he is a terrific communicator, and charming as hell, his systems have proven wanting over the past decade.

This is not a slight on the man himself, or an attempt to smear a worthwhile and fruitful career as a head coach. It is simply trying to put into perspective the recurring turmoil that seems to follow him. You can be a good person, and struggle at your job at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I wish Maurice the best and hope things turn around. I’m sure there is a Facebook quote for that.