Tonight the Florida Panthers will play their division rival Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh for the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The center of attention however is going to be the new coach behind Carolina’s bench as former Panther Kirk Muller was named as the new head coach of the stumbling Hurricanes yesterday, taking over for Paul Maurice. Maurice was let go after the Canes lost their third game in a row to the Ottawa Senators Saturday night, which saw their record slip to 8-13-4 on the season. The game tonight against the Florida starts a three game homestand for the Canes, and they’re hoping that the change along with home cooking changes their fate.
Muller who played for the Panthers for two plus seasons in the latter part of the 90’s, had a well traveled, but successful 19 year career in the NHL. Muller played in six all-star games, and won a Stanley Cup with the 92-92 Montreal Canadians, in what was his best year as a player. Scoring 94 points in the regular season, Muller also added 17 more in 20 games during the playoffs. He finished his playing career with the Dallas Stars before retiring after the 2002-2003 season. During his career he scored more than 30 goals five times and had more than 70 points seven times, and played in 1,349 games.
Muller was a member of the last Florida Panthers team to win a playoff game, and gets to face his former team tonight in his first NHL game as a head coach. Muller also played against Florida Panther coach Kevin Dineen, and is very familiar with current Panther defenceman Ed Jovanovski, and coach Gord Murphy and television analyst Billy Lindsay.
Prior to his new job as the head coach of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals, which began this season, Muller was the assistant coach of the Montreal Canadians working along side former Panther bench boss and GM, Jacques Martin, and Guy Carboneau before him. Muller is known for his leadership and motivational skills, as well as being a strong communicator, which was the exact opposite of the tight lipped and often smug Jacques Martin. Muller was the voice that kept the Canadians plugging away, and was often able to smooth things over for Martin when his ways fell upon deaf ears. Many say that Muller really ran that team, and when you saw his reactions, and mannerisms behind their bench, it was easy to make that assumption.
Muller is also somewhat familiar with his new surroundings in Carolina, as he was a teammate of assistant coach Dave Lewis during their days in New Jersey, and was on the all-star team with assistant coach Rod Brind’Amour in 1992 as members of the Wales Conference. In 1985 Muller and current Director of Hockey Operations for Carolina Ron Francis were teammates for Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship. And most recently Canes forward Brandon Sutter played for Team Canada in the U-18 World Championships in 2006, when Muller was an assistant coach.
Paul Maurice who ends his second tour of duty with the Canes, is still young enough where he’ll find a new job elsewhere, but Muller has been one of the hottest coaching prospects in the game, and will finally get his chance. At 45 years old, he’s a perfect age, and has had the right amount of seasoning, and is ready for his chance. Like Kevin Dineen, having played the game should make it easier for him to relate to players.
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