Laviolette fired, Maurice back in as ‘Canes coach

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2008

AP Sports Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The Carolina Hurricanes fired coach Peter Laviolette on Wednesday and replaced him with Paul Maurice, the winningest coach in franchise history.

Hall of Fame player Ron Francis, the team’s assistant general manager, moved from the front office and will be Maurice’s associate coach.

“We have a team that right now that, in my opinion, is not playing with the kind of confidence it needs,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. “We’ve lost that confidence.”

Laviolette, who replaced Maurice almost exactly five years ago, led the team to its only Stanley Cup title in 2006. Last month, he became the winningest American-born coach in NHL history.

But the Hurricanes ó the only team in the league’s modern history to miss the playoffs two straight years after winning it all ó lost four of five during the past 1O weeks.

Rutherford said he discussed the move with owner Peter Karmanos Jr. earlier this week before receiving permission from new Toronto general manager Brian Burke to speak to Maurice ó who was fired last May by the Maple Leafs ó about replacing Laviolette.

“It’s really not about the last four or five games,” Rutherford said. “It’s about changing to get the chemistry back on our team, to get the confidence back on our team and make what I would say minor adjustments in a system that really worked in the Stanley Cup year. But teams have adjusted to it, and our team hasn’t adjusted over the last couple of years.”

The 41-year-old Maurice has a career record of 344-357-137 in 11 seasons with Carolina and Toronto.

“If you’re ever going to be a coach, and you’re going to relate it to college, you really get your Harvard and Yale degree if you coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, regardless of how do you,” Rutherford said.

He led the franchise formerly known as the Hartford Whalers through its move to North Carolina in 1997 and coached the Hurricanes to their first Stanley Cup final in 2002 and won 268 games with the organization before his firing on Dec. 15, 2003.

“I still think that we would have turned it around,” Maurice joked. “I would consider Jim my best friend, and he fired me. One of the reasons we get along so well is that business never crosses over into that friendship. … When he made that decision, I didn’t really question whether it was the right one. I have a lot of faith that it is. So when he called me (Tuesday) and we talked about it for a while, by the time he was done, I said, ‘He was right again.'”

Rutherford said he would re-evaluate the coaching situation after the season, and that the Maple Leafs are paying Maurice’s salary this year as part of his severance.

“I think it’s best that we just look and see how this whole thing works,” Rutherford said. “It doesn’t mean that we’ll blow it all up. We may make a couple of adjustments. Really, my hope is that this team will stay together, and we see signs of improvement and this is long-term.”

Laviolette, who coached the New York Islanders for two seasons, was 167-130-30 in his fifth season with Carolina. He had 2O years left on the five-year contract he signed in June 2006 shortly after winning the Cup.

His 244 career wins are five more than former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella as the most in league history by an American-born coach.

But his job security came into question late last season when the team wrapped up a second consecutive campaign without making the playoffs, a lull blamed on a slow start. Following an after-the-season evaluation with Karmanos and Rutherford, Laviolette was retained with a mandate to deliver wins more consistently.

The Hurricanes entered Wednesday 12-11-2 and trailing Southeast Division-leading Washington by three points. They lost nine of 16 games in November, including a dismal midmonth stretch in which they were outscored by a combined 10-3 in consecutive home games against division opponents Atlanta and Washington.

“When you look at our team right now, I would say that without counting to the exact number or identifying names, we probably have a handful of players that are playing to our expectation,” Rutherford said. “That leaves an awful lot of players that have more to give.”

Jason Karmanos, Carolina’s executive director of hockey operations, will reassume the assistant general manager’s position from Francis ó who replaced him last year.