How Paul Maurice found peace being ‘just a piece’ — and how that’s helped the Panthers

At various points during a season, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice’s press conferences have the potential to become stuff of legends. The 57-year-old coach, in the midst of his 26th season behind an NHL bench and second with the Panthers, knows when to lighten the mood with either quick-wit sarcasm or deadpanned replies.

Sometimes, that’s by being self-deprecating. He boldly and with quick wit assured the media after Florida’s Game 3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that “we may not be the most talented team, but we don’t suck.”

After Florida’s Game 4 loss to the Lightning, he made quips throughout his press conference about how the media work room felt like a sauna and he planned to stay in there for a few extra minutes to lose some weight.

And at several points this season, he’s reminded everyone that forward Sam Reinhart is a fantastic player — unless the people listening are trying to sign him this offseason; in that case, “he has a bad attitude.”

That’s the Paul Maurice the public gets to see in addition to his work behind the bench on game day.

The person his players and the rest of the organization sees on a daily basis? That’s a little different.

“Up here, I ramble like a bumbling idiot,” Maurice said from the lectern on Thursday after practice. “In there, I kind of listen a little bit more.”

For someone who has been in the business as long as Maurice — his 1,848 regular-season games coached are second in NHL history only to the legendary Scotty Bowman — he has learned to adapt his philosophy and coaching habits over his career.

Since joining the Panthers ahead of the 2022-23 season, Maurice said he has an understanding that he is one part in the grand scheme of the organization’s master plan. He doesn’t need to have his hands in everything.

“I’m less stubborn than I used to be,” Maurice said, “for sure. ... I don’t know. I just got to a place where I know that I’m a piece and I’ve got a job to do. I know what that job is and I work hard and I enjoy it.”

And he’s been successful at it, too. In his first season, he took the Panthers from a run-and-gun team that excels in the regular season but has deficiencies in the postseason to a defense-oriented team that can thrive in any situation. The Panthers went through their lumps early in his first season but found a way to sneak into the playoffs and run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The success has continued in Year 2, with Florida preparing for its Round 2 matchup against the Boston Bruins that will start on Monday at Sunrise’s Amerant Bank Arena.

While there are many factors, many pieces, that have led to what looks to be a path for sustained success for the Panthers, Maurice’s impact can not be understated in streamlining the process.

“He told us from the start we were going to work hard and he wants to make us the hardest working team and organization in the league,” said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, who has had eight head coaches during his 11 seasons with Florida. “We’ve been becoming that since Day 1, and it’s been great. It’s hard work here. You’re exhausted obviously, but you learn how to love it because you know every single guy in this room and in this organization works really hard and that’s what it’s all about. We come here and we expect each other to work really hard.”

Maurice has done this by picking the right situations to make his voice heard. He can scream and shout and order and command and dictate as much as he wants — and, at times, he does — but doing that all the time has the potential to render his points moot.

So instead, he chooses when and how to express what he wants to get done. And more often than not, less is more.

“Everything he says is really smart,” Panthers center Anton Lundell said. “It’s always there’s an idea. There’s an explanation. There’s a story behind it. He doesn’t just tell us to do something to do something. There’s always a reason why we do stuff.”

To defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Florida’s second-longest tenured player on the roster behind only Barkov, the two biggest aspect that stands out about Maurice is his attention to detail.

“He’s seen everything and can pull it up from memory better than I’ve gotta think anybody in history,” Ekblad said. “He can go back and pull a situation that’s exactly what you’re going through, relay that to the team and find a way to galvanize us all together and work towards that common goal. I can’t say enough about how damn good at his job he is.”

And then there’s the motivational aspect of his job. He understands what buttons he has to push to get players to be at their best.

For some, like star winger Matthew Tkachuk, he can yell — and he has.

“There’s been times where he’s given it to me in between periods,” Tkachuk said. “I would say out of all my coaches, he’s probably yelled at me the most.”

Added Barkov: “Sometimes you need that. You need a little — not screaming, but a little push on your butt to get you going a little more. Some games are different. Sometimes you don’t need that. sometimes you need that. He knows exactly when and what to do.”

Through it all, there’s a mutual trust.

Maurice has the confidence in his players to take care of their business without him pestering them. The messaging is simple: Do your job, and everything will work out.

“I think maybe what we did well was early on we defined everybody’s job,” Maurice said. “This is what we’re asking you guys to do on a daily basis. And then we spent some time defining how to handle your day. ‘What are you doing today?’ Everybody does their job. We’re gonna have fun with it.”

And as the Panthers eye another extended playoff run in Maurice’s second year, they’re continuing to have fun in the process.

“He coaches in a way that makes the players feel like they can coach the team,” Reinhart said. “He’s so straightforward in teaching. He was on us every day, right from Day 1 in training camp two years ago. That provides the confidence with the players that they can go out and execute.”