TORONTO — The media pressure in centre of the hockey universe is real.
And few would be better evaluators of the strain it is currently taking on the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs than Paul Maurice.
The current Winnipeg Jets coach guided the Maple Leafs for two playoff-free seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08, before being fired by interim general manager Cliff Fletcher. He knows first-hand what current Leafs coach Peter Horachek must be dealing with.
The desire for NHLers to win games is consistent across all markets, Maurice explained, but controlling the message inside the dressing room becomes a Herculean task when, as a coach, you know your quotes will be splashed across more newspapers and television stations.
“So if you’re saying something good about a player, he’s a rock star. And if a guy has a tough night, and you want to deal with the media honestly, you gotta be careful about how hard you go at his play, because the next day, or even that day, it’s a drive-by shooting,” Maurice said Friday after the Jets’ practice at MasterCard Centre.
“It’s 40 people in the (player’s) stall figuring out whether they should play him, trade him or execute him. And that’s a challenge for controlling that room.”
A challenge so difficult, Maurice isn’t sure if he ever got a hold of the Leafs’ room during his two-year tenure.
Ironically, Maurice believes Pat Quinn, the man he replaced behind the Toronto bench, was the best at limiting media influence on his players.
“For the most part, everybody was a little afraid of him. It might have come across the podium, so that helped,” Maurice said, with a chuckle. “I also think he got to the point where he really didn’t care, so he said what he wanted. I enjoyed watching how he dealt with that.”
Maurice, who has coached NHL teams in Hartford, Carolina, Toronto and now Winnipeg, said no market matches Ontario’s capital when it comes to media’s influence. Second to that are the other Canadian markets, followed by the traditional U.S. hockey towns and then the non-traditional American cities.
“There’s a major difference in terms of what you have to deal with in terms of controlling the message in the room,” he said.
“Certain guys are really good at working the market here and certain guys weren’t,” Maurice said. “It can have an affect on how you’re viewed as a player in the market.”
In the thick of a playoff race, Maurice’s Jets face off against his former team Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.