May 7, 2008 / 4:54 PM / in 10 years

Maple Leafs fire head coach Paul Maurice

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Paul Maurice on Wednesday after he failed to lead the National Hockey League team into the playoffs during his two seasons behind the bench.

<p>Toronto Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice watches from the bench the second period of his team's NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Toronto January 15, 2008. The Toronto Maple Leafs fired Maurice on Wednesday after he failed to lead the team into the playoffs during his two seasons behind the bench, according to media reports. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill</p>

Maurice, 41, who still had one year left on a three-year contract, was named coach in 2006. His dismissal follows the firing of general manager John Ferguson in January.

“What this does now is pave the way for when a new management team is in place to bring in a new coaching staff with them,” interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said at a press conference.

Maurice, a former coaching wunderkind who landed his first NHL head coaching job at 28, had been counted on to bring the Leafs back to the Stanley Cup playoffs after they missed the post-season in 2005-06 under former coach Pat Quinn.

Previously a minor-league coach in the Leafs system, Maurice had been seen as someone who could help the team’s younger players improve rapidly.

But the team’s uneven performance, due to bad trades, questionable free agent signings and the slow improvement of some of the team’s young players, led to Ferguson’s dismissal and made it seem Maurice’s days were numbered.

The Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967, a streak of failures exceeded only by the Chicago Blackhawks. Toronto fans have endured often long periods of mediocrity since the Leafs’ last Cup victory.

The team also fired assistant coach Randy Ladoucer, while assistant coach Dallas Eakins has been offered a position elsewhere in the organization.

“It was a difficult day today. This part of the job is no fun at all,” said Fletcher.

Maurice ended with a 76-66-22 record with the Leafs.

No replacement has been named.

Reporting by Cameron French and Frank Pingue; editing by Rob Wilson

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