When Cliff Fletcher took over the GM responsibilities from John Ferguson Jr., he promised there would be changes to the organization. Those changes began today.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired coach Paul Maurice and sources tell TSN that the team has approached the Vancouver Canucks asking for permission to speak with recently fired GM Dave Nonis.
Nonis would be brought in to handle the Leafs' managing duties through next season, with speculation suggesting the Maple Leafs would then approach Brian Burke at the conclusion of the season, with designs on Burke overseeing the entire hockey operation with Nonis continuing to occupy a management role as well.
"My objective is to create the best environment possible for the next Leafs general manager to bring in his own staff and to create a new culture around the team," Fletcher said in a statement regarding the Maurice-firing.
"Since the season ended we've spent considerable time evaluating our organization and how best to move it forward. Paul has been in a difficult position for several months. Making this decision now also provides the best opportunity for Paul to pursue all options potentially open to him."
The move didn't come as a surprise to Maurice, who sensed that his job could be in jeopardy after after another disappointing season that saw the Maple Leafs miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
This is a start of a new era for the Maple Leafs. This is all part and parcel of that. -Cliff Fletcher
"You know the way the season ended up and the changes that are going to take place on the team," Maurice told The Canadian Press from his Toronto home. "So I was very aware that it was a possibility.
"I can't say that I was surprised."
Maurice had one year remaining on his original three-year contract.
"You don't take it nearly as personally I don't think," said Maurice. "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."
Maurice spoke to NHL Insider Darren Dreger Wednesday morning and said that he was thankful that the Maple Leafs let him go now, rather than three months from now, making things easier for his family and allowing him to jump back in the NHL as a head coach.
As for the timing of the announcement, Dreger noted that there were two schools of thought circulating.
"One might be, whether a manager has been hired and he doesn't want the bloodletting," Dreger said. "Or two, it's Cliff Fletcher holding onto the position moving into next year."
Fletcher had previously been non-committal about Maurice's future with the club, saying only that Maurice's fate would be decided by the incoming GM.
"There will be discussions, but you can be sure of one thing," Fletcher told the Canadian Press. "The person coming in is going to be a strong hockey person and he's going to have very definite opinions of his own."
But during the press conference Wednesday at the Air Canada Centre, Fletcher stressed the importance of providing the new GM and the organization with a fresh start.
"This is a start of a new era for the Maple Leafs," said Fletcher. "This is all part and parcel of that."
"The team missed the playoffs the last two years. A new regime is coming in place and I think when you bring in a new regime they bring their own people. It's just common sense."
The Leafs also shook up the rest of the coaching staff. Assistant coach Randy Ladouceur has been let go, while assistant coach Dallas Eakins has been offered a non-coaching position elsewhere in the organization. Keith Acton will remain as an assistant coach.
Maurice, 41, originally joined the Maple Leafs orginization June 24, 2005 as head coach of Toronto's AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. He was promoted to the Maple Leafs on May 12, 2006 following Pat Quinn's dismissal.
In two seasons with Toronto, Maurice compiled a 76-66-22 record. The Leafs have now missed the playoffs for three straight years, something that hasn't happened since 1928.
Before joining the Leafs, Maurice, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, spent eight seasons with the Harford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise. His best season came in 2001-2002 when he took the Hurricanes to Stanley Cup Finals, defeating the Maple Leafs along the way.
Maurice is expected to address the media Thursday at 10:30am et/7:30am pt.