NHL fines Panthers coach Paul Maurice for criticizing refs

Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice has been fined $25,000 by the NHL for criticizing officials after Florida's 5-4 overtime loss Tuesday to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maurice took issue with how referees Pierre Lambert and Francois St. Laurent doled out penalties to his squad, specifically a charging call against defenseman Radko Gudas late in the second period. It was Gudas' second infraction of the night and the 10th penalty overall assessed against Florida.

"There will always be penalties that you take in your game you earn," Maurice said. "There's a whole bunch you're not going to like at all. I thought we had the inordinate share of those [where it is] hard to describe the call. Usually at least [the officials] have enough there to argue. [They] come over and say, 'Yeah, the stick got up.' Radko Gudas [throws] as clean a hit as you can level -- stick on stick, body on body, not a charge. They're both going in the same direction.

"No problem with the guy going to the net at all. That's hockey. But that's -- I don't know what the hell those [officials] were doing tonight, but it wasn't Florida Panther friendly."

It is not the first time Maurice has taken issue with league officials. As coach of the Winnipeg Jets in 2016, Maurice was fined $5,000 for an exchange with St. Laurent over a pair of hits. On Tuesday, Maurice flagged that interaction as a precursor to what happened in Toronto.

"I just explained to [my players] that [the penalty calls] had nothing to do with [them]," he said. "That had to do with me in a relationship that I have with one of the referees. That's what that was all about, so just go out, keep your mouth shut and play the game."

Maurice was asked about his critical comments again Thursday in Montreal before news of his fine became public. He sidestepped the question by telling reporters, "It would be fiscally irresponsible for me to say anything ever again."

Speaking to reporters in Buffalo, New York, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league steps in when situations like this dictate.

"There's a certain level of conduct we expect from our coaches,'' Bettman said. "And sometimes when that line is crossed, it doesn't matter what the excuse is.''

This is Maurice's first season behind the Panthers' bench. Florida has struggled under its new regime from the outset, going 21-20-5 and currently sitting outside the playoff picture. The Panthers dominated last year as the 2021-22 Presidents' Trophy winners, finishing with a league-high 122 points.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.