Kirk Muller leaving Blues, St. Louis now seeking two assistant coaches

Kirk Muller was mentioned as a possible replacement for Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis after he coaches his final season, but that doesn’t appear it will be the case. Muller will not be returning to the Blues next season, turning down a one-year deal to stay in St. Louis.

During the press conference to announce Ken Hitchcock’s new, one-year deal with the Blues — a season Hitchcock said would be his final year as a coach — St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong said there wasn’t necessarily a coach waiting in the wings to take over, but that he saw assistant Kirk Muller as someone who could potentially fill the job in 2017-18.

Well, if Muller is going to be the one to take the coaching gig in St. Louis, it’s going to have to mean Armstrong brings him back into the fold. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Tom Timmermann, Muller has told the Blues he will not be returning for the 2016-17 season.

Muller’s departure doesn’t only mean that the only heir apparent for Hitchcock’s post is leaving town, it also gives the Blues a big need for assistant coaches. Armstrong said he offered one-year deals to Muller and Brad Shaw, but Shaw has left the organization and now, too, has Muller. That means Hitchcock will be joined behind the bench by two fresh faces in 2016-17.

Given the overall success the Blues had the departures of Muller and Shaw are a bit surprising.

Armstrong said there would be “things that (Muller) and I would have to hash through” if he were to become coach, and it’s possible there’s the chance for Muller — a former bench boss of the Carolina Hurricanes — sees the potential to land a job now. There are still openings behind the bench for the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks, and both teams appear to be continuing their interview process. Muller could be in the running in either spot.

As for Shaw, it’s hard to say where he ends up next, but his farewell comes following a long tenure with the Blues. Shaw had just completed his 10th season as an assistant/associate coach in St. Louis, and his moving on may signal that he’s ready to take on more responsibility as a coach.

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But even with Muller and Shaw gone, bringing back Hitchcock may make it seem as though there won’t be too much change for the Blues. That might not be the case, though, as Muller and Shaw played important roles in St. Louis.

One of Muller’s primary duties throughout his two-year tenure behind the Blues bench was running the power play. During the regular season, St. Louis’ power play ranked sixth at a 21.5 percent clip and was responsible for 51 of the Blues’ goals last season. The power play was equally as strong during the post-season, too, scoring 15 goals and running at 26.3 percent.

Meanwhile Shaw ran the penalty kill, which was the third-best in the NHL during the regular season but saw a drop during the playoffs. After operating at 85.1 percent during the campaign, the post-season saw the Blues PK drop to a meager 80 percent success rate. It didn’t help matching up against a red-hot San Jose Sharks power play in the Western Conference final.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the vacancies in St. Louis could lead Hitchcock to look at recently fired Minnesota Wild assistants Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor. Wilson worked with Hitchcock during his time with the Dallas Stars, winning a Stanley Cup as a member of the 1998-99 team. Sydor was a defenseman on that same Stars team and had spent the past five seasons as an assistant with the Wild.