Raleigh, NC --- Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford had something specific in mind when he began thinking about a coaching change a month ago.
First of all, he wanted a "good fit" for the franchise. Second, he wanted to go outside of the organization and bring in someone that would offer a different perspective and bring a different flavor to the Hurricanes.
He certainly had some quality options within the franchise, notably in assistant coach Ron Francis and Jeff Daniels, the team's Charlotte affiliate head coach. But Rutherford rolled the dice a bit, and opted for Kirk Muller, who has all of 16 games of professional head coaching experience.
"I did talk to Jeff Daniels, who is prepared to be head coach, one by moving him here obviously disrupts the development part of what we're trying to do in Charlotte," Rutherford said Monday evening at the RBC Center.
"At the end of the process, I really wanted to bring somebody in that had some ideas from another organization, and between the teams that Kirk's played for and then working with the Montreal Canadiens he will bring some new and fresh ideas to our team."
Muller spent five seasons as an assistant with Montreal before getting the job leading the Nashville Predators' top minor club this past summer. He guided Milwaukee to a 10-6 mark before accepting Carolina's offer.
Rutherford said the lackluster effort in a 4-0 loss at Montreal two weeks ago was when he made the decision to replace Paul Maurice. Rutherford spoke to Muller for "approximately 7-10 days" and the 45-year-old Muller was their number one choice.
Muller does have head coaching experience, but that was at Queen's University in Ontario. He was an assistant on the 2005 Team Canada squad and the 2006 Under-18 club that included current Hurricane Brandon Sutter.
In 19 seasons, Muller played 1,349 games, scored 357 goals, had 602 assists, was a 6-time NHL All-Star, played in 127 Stanley Cup playoff games, and scored the Cup-clinching goal for Montreal in 1993.
Muller knows the game from a player's perspective, which can be crucial when tough times arrive. He's been through it, and as a coach he's learned how to communicate what he's experienced. Given Carolina's situation, especially with All-Star Eric Staal, who has just five goals on the season, and only 10 goals in his last 48 games dating back to last season, Muller might be able to push the right button to get Staal going.
"I know what he can do," Muller said. "We all know what level he can play at, and not everyone can get to that level. He can and until I get a chance to sit down with him and get a feel for where he's at.
"I'm a communicator, I understand where the players are coming from, and I'm hoping I can build a bond with him and see where he's at and get the best hockey out of him. I do believe, it's no secret, your best player has to be your best player."
If Muller can spark Staal, the trickle-down process could lead to some exciting times at the RBC Center. Make no mistake, this isn't a team that's suddenly going to start beating the Penguins on a regular basis, but it can certainly make a push for a spot in the playoffs.
If Muller coaches like he was prepared for his intro to the Carolina media, he should do pretty well.
Muller said a lot of the right things. Noted the uniqueness of the area where he will now work and live. He has a daughter graduating from high school next spring and she's already looking at schools in North Carolina.
Muller also said he's spoken to plenty of former players who raved about living in the Raleigh area and how youth hockey is rapidly growing in the area. And he acknowledged the sports that have long histories making up the culture here, too.
"It is a car racing and college basketball," he said, smiling. "There's a great market here and a great tradition with some of the schools."
But he's a hockey guy, and everyone in the room under Carolina's employee are also hockey people committed to continuing to imbed the franchise into the region's fabric. To most successfully do that the Canes must win, and Muller knows that.