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Florida Panthers’ coach Paul Maurice on the Stanley Cup: ‘I need to win one’

Paul Maurice was all but sure that he was done coaching. He had resigned as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets in December 2021 and thought his quarter century in the NHL and three-decade career leading hockey teams was in the rearview mirror.

And then that summer, after four “phenomenal days of fishing,” things changed.

“This is the absolute truth,” Maurice said. “My phone rings and it’s a number I don’t know, so I never answer that. Then I get a text that says ‘Answer your phone.’”

The person he ends up connecting with: Bill Zito, who was just wrapping up his second season as the Florida Panthers’ general manager.

The conversation started out simple enough. Zito didn’t press Maurice about taking the job. He wanted to gauge the coach’s interest in making his way behind the bench.

“And then we start talking hockey,” Maurice said, “and that was it.”

Maurice, 57, has accomplished many things in his coaching career. He has coached the second-most games in league history (1,848), has the fourth-most wins (869) and has spent 26 seasons in the NHL with a few stints in the American Hockey League and a year in Russia along the way.

There’s one thing missing from his resume: A Stanley Cup.

This opportunity with Zito and the Panthers has given him what might be that final chance to do so. Florida made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year in Maurice’s debut season with the team only to lose to Vegas in five games.

They’re back again this year, set to begin the best-of-7 series against the Edmonton Oilers with Game 1 at 8 p.m. Saturday at Sunrise’s Amerant Bank Arena.

“Everybody’s different. Every coach is different. It seems to me as you age, you have a different perspective on life and what’s important. I need to win one,” Maurice said Friday. “Now, it’s not going to change the section of my life that’s not related to hockey at all. But that’s how I feel. I’m 30 years into this thing. I wouldn’t mind winning one.”

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice talk with his players during practice in preparation for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers at the Amerant Bank Arena on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice talk with his players during practice in preparation for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers at the Amerant Bank Arena on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.

To understand Maurice’s passion is to understand his journey to get here.

Maurice’s tenure as an NHL head coach began in the 1995-96 season with the Hartford Whalers. He was 28 years old at the time. He was the Whalers’ head coach each of their final two seasons before they relocated to North Carolina and became the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he stayed the head coach for six full seasons — making the playoffs three times and reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002 — before being fired 30 games into the 2003-04 season.

After a two-year stint as the head coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies, Maurice returned to the NHL as the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2006-07 season. He stayed in Toronto for two seasons before returning for a second stint with Carolina, during which he guided the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference finals in the 2008-2009 season but missed the playoffs each of the next two seasons. He was fired 25 games into the 2011-12 season.

Maurice then took another year hiatus from the NHL, this time serving as head coach of the Metallurg Magnitogorsk of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). He found his way back to the NHL in the 2013-14 season with the Winnipeg Jets, where he made the playoffs five times in his eight full seasons before resigning 29 games into the 2021-22 season.

Maurice said that at that point, he was at peace with life.

“I had given all that I thought I had to give,” Maurice said. “I certainly have been fortunate and received far more than I gave.”

But then came that phone call.

“There’s these strange little things,” Maurice said, “and Florida was right where I was supposed to be.”

Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice watches as his players run drills during a practice session in preparation for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers at the Amerant Bank Arena on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers head coach Paul Maurice watches as his players run drills during a practice session in preparation for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Edmonton Oilers at the Amerant Bank Arena on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Sunrise, Fla.

During the past two seasons, as he continued to rack up more career milestones, Maurice has made it a point to say he has found a different way to love the game. His appreciation is buoyed even more, he said, by the impact of those he’s around — the players in the locker room who are able to self-manage themselves, the ownership and front office giving him the support he needs, the collaborative effort from all parties as they steer toward the common goal of a Stanley Cup.

He only has so many more chances to hoist the cup. Then again, it’s an opportunity he thought wouldn’t come again as recently as two years ago.

So when the puck drops Saturday, Maurice will be in the moment, ready for what’s to come.

“When it’s over — because I thought it was — I understand what it feels like to feel like it’s over and you didn’t win it,” Maurice said. “I know coaches that feel the opposite. Maybe it’s a function of the fact that I carry the losses, and that goes back to starting very, very young. I’m going to know when this thing is all over either how good I got or how good I was. I won’t need somebody else to tell me that or to value my career. I have a pretty good idea of the job I’ve done when it’s over.”