Jets head coach Paul Maurice resigns: 'They need a new voice'

Paul Maurice explains to the media why he has decided to step down as the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets.

Paul Maurice has resigned as head coach of the Winnipeg Jets, saying the team needs a new voice.

"This is a good team. I’m a good coach," said Maurice. "But sometimes when you take over a team, it’s like you’re starting at the bottom of a mountain and you’re pushing a rock up to the top and you’re only able to get it to a certain place. And that’s where I feel I’m at. And if you would allow me some arrogance, I would say that I’m better positioned than anyone to know that they need a new voice."

Assistant coach Dave Lowry will be Winnipeg's interim head coach for the remainder of the season, as confirmed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff Friday.

Maurice said his decision to step down was not related to the team's performance, nor was it linked to him feeling like he'd lost the players.

"They haven’t quit on me," Maurice said. "They’re a good bunch of men. My relationship is strong with all of them. And I’m cheering for them. I am. But when you have a 26-year professional hockey coaching career, you know. They need a new voice. They need somebody to help them get to that next place. It doesn’t need to be a necessarily more experienced, more talented guy. It needs to be a different voice. It’s the right time for it. And I know that."

While the news of his resignation was sudden for most, Maurice explained he had consulted often with Cheveldayoff and True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman about how he'd been feeling, with assistant Jamie Kompon also taking part in conversations. Maurice made it clear that he was at peace with his decision -- that Friday was a really good day for him and for the franchise, bringing similar happiness and clarity as the day he stepped into the job in January 2014.

Maurice, who came in as a replacement for Claude Noel, was the second longest-serving head coach in the league, trailing only Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I came up here on a four-month contract," Maurice told reporters during a press conference Friday morning. "And fell in love with all of it. Ownership. Management. Players. Staff. The city. The fans. The snow. The cold. And found a home. Wonderful place. And I love this place. I love this team."

Maurice's Jets made the post-season five times, including his first full season at the helm in 2014-15 as well as the past four consecutive years. The team's best showing under Maurice came in 2017-18 when the Jets advanced to the Western Conference Final before losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.

The longtime coach called his decision both a personal and professional one, and shed more light on his thought process around his decision to step away. He spoke of the difficult 2020 season -- the pandemic pause, the bubble environment, the empty arenas -- and how that prompted some of his introspection about his role and his approach to the rink.

"Going back to the bubble, to the lockout year, I didn’t enjoy it. And that’s the very first time in my career I can say I didn’t enjoy coming to the rink. And I thought that maybe it was all of what was going on," he said. "And then I got fired up. Chevy did it again. He got those two D [Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt], and I got fired up.

"If you lose some of that passion for the game, the love of the game, you can still be good, but you can’t be as good as you should be, or you could be -- and that’s how I feel I am," he explained.

Maurice said he had a brief conversation with Jets captain Blake Wheeler when he arrived at the arena Friday morning, and then spoke with the entire team as a group to inform them of his decision.

Said Maurice:

"I think the day that I got hired was a really good day for the Winnipeg Jets, and it was a really, really good day for me. And I feel exactly the same way today. This is a good team. They have a great fan base. They love their players and their team and I’m cheering for these guys. I love these guys. I love this place. I know, that it’s time. And that’s a good thing for the Jets. It’s also a really, really good thing for me."

The Jets signed Maurice to a multi-year extension in February 2020 before the team bowed out in the qualifying round against the Calgary Flames later that year.

Last season, the Jets swept the favoured Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the North Division playoffs before being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round.

The Jets are 13-10-5 and fifth in the Central Division this season.

The 54-year-old Maurice, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., previously coached the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. He started in the NHL with Hartford in 1995 and his best season came in 2001-02 when he guided the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup Final.

Lowry became an assistant coach with the Jets in November 2020 after serving as head coach of the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings. A former NHLer himself, who is also the father of Jets centre Adam Lowry, was previously an assistant with the Flames and Los Angeles Kings.

Maurice unsure if his coaching career will continue

While this is the end of Maurice's head coaching tenure in Winnipeg, the longtime bench boss said he doesn't know yet if it's also the end of his coaching days in general.

"I don't know the answer to that," he said. "I would tell you that, you're a performer -- just like the players -- and you have to be at your best. I'm a pretty honest critique of my performance, I am. Maybe sometimes a little too critical with it, but I'm honest about it with myself. And the only way I would step back in again is if I felt I could be even better than I was before -- and that's not today."

Cheveldayoff on good relationship with Maurice, what Lowry brings as head coach

"A lot of the conversations that Paul and I have had over the last weeks, months -- but weeks, really -- is just getting [the team] to that next level and what it's going to take and can we get there," Cheveldayoff said during his own media availability following Maurice's. "As we continued to talk, I think that in his mind he felt that he certainly wasn't going to be able to get us to that next level."

Cheveldayoff, who spoke highly of Maurice and said the two have a very good relationship, said during contract negotiations Maurice would ask for one-year deals so as to allow for a natural re-assessment process each season. The GM said he felt the players "never stopped working" for Maurice and that the decision came from the coach.

"It became clear, certainly in the last couple of days here with our conversations, that I think he definitely felt that he couldn't push the buttons [for the team] and we came to an agreement," he said.

Cheveldayoff said he met with the team after Maurice spoke with them Friday, and said he believes the players will respond well to the coaching change with Lowry -- "A new voice, and I think a good voice," he added -- now at the helm.

"This is a good group. They like each other, they care for each other in that room, and I think they're a good hockey team," he said. "I'm really excited, actually, for Dave Lowry. I've seen Dave operate here now for a couple of years, but this is an experienced hockey man. He's played over 1,000 games, he's coached at a lot of different levels and been an assistant coach under many different coaches. He's a guy that obviously has learned some things at the feet of Paul Maurice, but when I talked to him late last night about this opportunity, you could see the gears and wheels turning right away. Even in my subsequent conversations, he's got some different things he wants to do.

"... He's certainly taken that next step and I'm excited for him. And I think the guys are excited for him, too."

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