"Mo must go," fans chanted last week during another Carolina Hurricanes home loss. Today, Mo went.
At the end of a miserable November, the Hurricanes have dismissed coach Paul Maurice. General manager Jim Rutherford has replaced him with ex-Montreal great Kirk Muller.
This is Muller's first head coaching job at the National Hockey League level.
Muller has been the head coach of the Nashville Predators' AHL affiliate in Milwaukee this season after serving as an assistant coach in Montreal for five years. Credited with architecting the Canadiens' power play that helped oust a powerful Capitals squad from the playoffs two years ago, Muller wasn't destined for the job in Montreal despite having played there. As a player, he won the Stanley Cup with the Habs in 1993, played in six all-star games, and tallied nearly 1,000 points in more than 1,300 games across 19 seasons. He was a strong, two-way center, nicknamed "Captain Kirk" and "Kirk is Work."
His first game will be in Raleigh on Tuesday as the Hurricanes host the Florida Panthers. The Panthers lead the Southeast division. The Canes occupy its cellar.
Paul Maurice coached 920 games with the Hartford/Carolina franchise. This was his second stint with the team. His defense-first style led the low-scoring Canes to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002, where they fell to the Detroit Red Wings in five games. The Canes missed the playoffs the following season, and won their only cup with Peter Laviolette at the helm in 2006. After a similar dip in fortunes, the Canes tried Maurice again, and his forechecking Canes fought their way to the conference finals in 2009, where the Pittsburgh Penguins swept them. Carolina has not returned to the playoffs since, missing out last season by losing their final game at home to Tampa Bay.
Here's a suggestion for Muller. Take the captain's "C" off Eric Staal's sweater. Let him be just a player. Make Jeff Skinner or even Jay Harrison, who seems to be stepping up in the locker room, another alternate captain and play for a while without a captain. Then, in April, put the "C" on the most appropriate player.
Staal is at a fork in the road of his career, and Muller should grab his steering wheel. Down one path, we will be able to replace Muller's name with Staal's in the career-rundown sentence a couple paragraphs above. Down the other path—the path he's following this season—he will become the one of the storied Staal family that never fulfilled his promise.
A look at the league standings might cause one to utter "The Canes stink," but the fact is, this is not a bad roster of players. Put the roster next to that of all but the top teams and you don't see much of a difference. But there's a spark missing. Erik Cole, departed via free agency to Montreal, might have been that spark. But a coach should be able to change flints. This team is simply not anywhere near as bad as its record.
Another thing worth mentioning about Sunday's loss in Ottawa—Tomas Kaberle was a healthy scratch. Could a trade be imminent? Pierre LeBrun mentioned that Rutherford had been trying to trade Kaberle in an ESPN.com chat with Scott Burnside. GMs scratch players sometimes when a deal is in the last stage of being closed, rather than risk an injury to the player that would scuttle it. But with the paltry numbers Kaberle has put up—along with his hefty price tag ($4.25 million) and term (two more seasons after this one)—what team would want him? Perhaps Philadelphia, a well-heeled team that likes high-profile players and might need a point man for their power play now that Chris Pronger's health has become a question? It is time to wildly speculate about this.
Coincidentally, the Washington Capitals also changed coaches today. Gone is Bruce Boudreau who, along with Maurice, was one of the wittiest men in recent years to stand behind a bench. Former Caps warrior Dale Hunter takes the helm in the nation's capital. Since his retirement in 1999, he's had fantastic success guiding the OHL London Knights for 11 seasons.