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Maurice a keeper, says guy who fired him -- twice

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Twice Jim Rutherford has hired Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice to run his NHL team and twice he has fired him. But he says he'd hire the coach all over again given the right circumstances.

"It would be difficult to do in Carolina but if I was the manager of another team, the answer would be yes, I would hire Paul again," the longtime GM of the Carolina Hurricanes said.

Rutherford was reached by cellphone and was happy to give up some of his time to discuss a man he's known since Maurice's teenage years as a junior player with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires.

Rutherford made Maurice an NHL head coach at just 28 and then fired him the first time after a seven-season run. During the 2008-09 season, Rutherford brought in Maurice for a second stint, which lasted almost four seasons, before the second dismissal.

'His teams are very wellprepared. He reads the game very well and when something is going wrong he can fix it during a game or before the next one'

-- Jim Rutherford, Paul Maurice's ex-boss

Maurice reached the Stanley Cup in 2001-02 coaching the Hurricanes and owns a 463-457-167 record over parts of 15 seasons with Carolina, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Jets.

Rutherford says the new boss of the Jets is an elite NHL coach.

"Paul has never gotten the credit for being as good a coach as he is. Everyone gets dealt a different hand, whether you're playing cards, in business or in sports. Based on the hand Paul has been dealt in every year he's coached, he's got the most out of his cards or players," said Rutherford. "You can't just go based on somebody's record. Not everybody gets the best players and Paul has never been afforded that opportunity."

Rutherford, who said "everyone's time runs its course with a team," in describing why he's fired Maurice twice, says the coach is a master communicator. The players in Winnipeg will understand what is expected of them and whether they are meeting those expectations.

"His teams are very well-prepared. He reads the game very well and when something is going wrong he can fix it during a game or before the next one," said Rutherford. "He is a fair communicator in terms of what they need to do better to help the team and themselves. If a player doesn't know where he stands with Paul, it's the player's fault. His door is always open and having been in those meetings, he's as clear as can be."

One of the recurring issues for the Jets under previous coach Claude Noel was the ongoing evaluation of the talent and personalities on the roster. Was Noel underachieving with the players he had or was he getting the most out of what he was given? The question never seemed to be clearly answered. With Maurice, a veteran of more than 1,000 games and now with his third NHL organization, that evaluation should be swift and final.

"When you bring someone from the outside you're going to get a different opinion on players. Paul is a very bright guy, aside from our game of hockey, too. He reads things very well. He is a very good evaluator, not only of talent for the game, but he's very perceptive and reads people very well. He'll understand the makeup of people," said Rutherford. "He can read people and players and he can do it in as short a time as I've seen. He's a very intuitive guy. He'll get a read on what the Jets have quite quickly."

That read may determine the future of Maurice with the Jets. The contract he currently has with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff runs only to the end of the season. Maurice, who has three children, all in high school, wanted to see if the city was a fit for his family before making a long-term decision.

If Maurice sees a winning future between the current roster and the seeds Cheveldayoff is planting within the organization, that decision will be much easier to make.

The Jets and Winnipeg are in a fashion auditioning for Maurice, who will have other options from TV to coaching when this summer arrives.

If Maurice elects to walk at season's end, the packaged reason will be "personal reasons," and there's no reason to doubt there will be truth in such a statement.

But there are good schools in Winnipeg and Maurice isn't picking a home for his family based on shopping destinations. Winnipeg is a good fit for a family man.

Maurice's decision will tell us a lot about the perspective a seasoned NHL coach came away with when given an inside look at the Jets.

Paul Maurice will give the Jets a passing grade and stay. Or flunk them and be on his way.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2014 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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