The Toronto Maple Leafs made their first big move of the off-season on Wednesday, firing head coach Paul Maurice.
CBCSports.ca has confirmed that Maurice, 41, was told early Wednesday morning he had been relieved of his duties with one year and a club option remaining on his contract.
"The way the season ended and with everything else that is going on, it didn't come as a surprise," Maurice said. "It's not the decision you ever want, but I am also glad it didn't take a long time.
"Today, I just wanted to make sure I got to my kids in school, so they could hear about it from me first."
Maurice took over from the fired Pat Quinn on May 12, 2006, but failed to guide the Maple Leafs into the playoffs in two seasons at the helm.
Toronto finished 12th in the 15-team Eastern Conference this season with a 36-35-11 record, missing the playoffs by 11 points.
"The team missed the playoffs the last two years [under Maurice] and a new regime is coming into place here," is how Maple Leafs interim general manager Cliff Fletcher explained the team's decision at Wednesday's new conference. "And when you bring in a new regime, they bring their own people in. It's just common sense in the sports business.
"I think it was obvious that new management would want new coaching. I think in order to be fair to the people who left us today, that they should be given enough time [to] pursue other opportunities."
There was no word on Maurice's successor.
When asked if the new GM would be seeking a younger or more experienced person as the 27th head coach in franchise history, Fletcher cracked, "someone that'll win 55 to 60 games a year."
He added that assistant coach Keith Acton, who has been with the team for eight seasons, would be retained.
However, Randy Ladouceur and Dallas Eakins, who has been offered a non-coaching job within the organization, were relieved of their duties. Fletcher expects an answer from Eakins in the next two to three weeks.
"Keith is a very respected hockey coach in NHL circles. It's felt that the new coach will be given the opportunity to retain Keith or otherwise," said Fletcher. "Dallas is an up-and-coming young hockey person, and that's why we're offering him the chance [to stay on] in a different capacity."
At Tuesday's regularly scheduled Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board of directors meeting, Fletcher said he outlined a plan that he felt "had to be followed. The big thing we can't do is be spinning our wheels in the sand. The organization has to move forward, decisions have to be made … we [as an organization] felt this was the right timing."
When asked Wednesday to analyze the good and the bad during his two years behind the Leafs bench, Maurice wasn't quite ready to answer that.
"I don't know that I'm in the right state of mind to go through them right now," said Maurice. "The fact of the matter is that there are always things — even in good seasons — that you would like to have changed.
"At the same time, you made the decisions with experience, with your entire staff on board, and you live with those results."
GM went too
Earlier this season, the team fired general manager John Ferguson, who had first hired Maurice to coach the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies, then promoted him to replace Quinn.
Wednesday's decision was made by Fletcher, whose mandate essentially has been to clear the decks for the arrival of a full-time manager.
The Maple Leafs posted an impressive 40-31-11 record in 2006-07, Maurice's first behind the Toronto bench, but missed the playoffs by one point despite winning six of their final 10 games.
Maurice compiled a 76-66-22 record in two seasons with Toronto and is 344-373-121 in 10 seasons with the Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes.
He led Carolina to the Stanley Cup final in 2002 for the first time in its 23-year history and was fired after 8½ seasons after the team opened the 2002-03 campaign with just eight wins in the first 30 games.
Above .500 with Carolina
Maurice said the second time is slightly easier to take.
"You don't take it nearly as personally I don't think," he said. "It's always a very difficult thing because it's a competition every day and when you lose that competition it's difficult. The fact of the matter is, the first time is more difficult."
A native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Maurice was an instant hit in Toronto with the Marlies players and watched them finish fourth in the AHL's North Division with a 41-29-6-4 record in 2005-06.
Toronto advanced to the Calder Cup playoffs, but fell 4-1 to the Grand Rapids Griffins in a best-of-seven first-round series.
Maurice began his NHL coaching career in 1996 at age 28 with the Hartford Whalers and stayed with the club when it moved to Carolina the following year.