Paul Maurice seems to have a certain shelf life as an NHL coach. Today in Carolina it expired. Maurice, who led the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup final in 2002, was fired and replaced by Kirk Muller, formerly an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens and the head coach of the American League’s Milwaukee Admirals until the hiring this morning.
Maurice had a reputation as a players’ coach with a high hockey IQ, but those credentials rarely translated into success. In 13 prior seasons as an NHL coach, his teams missed the playoffs eight times, including the past two campaigns. This is the second time he has been fired by the Hurricanes.
The allure of Maurice was his ability to capture a team’s imagination for unexpected playoff runs. In his second stint with Carolina (after an unsuccessful sojourn in Toronto), he took over the team midway through the season from Peter Laviolette and marched the Canes into the Eastern Conference final, where they fell to the Penguins.
With the Hurricanes floundering, this was definitely a move that needed to be made. Even though Muller himself is no chair-thrower, the shakeup will be good for a moribund Carolina dressing room. This is a team that features a Conn Smythe-winning goaltender in Cam Ward, a Calder Trophy winner in Jeff Skinner and a Canadian Olympian in Eric Staal, yet sits last in the Southeast Division with one of the worst records in the conference. On some nights, the Canes have looked like an AHL squad.
Staal in particular has struggled and it’s not crazy to think it stems from the fact his brother Marc has been on the shelf with post-concussion syndrome due to a hit Eric threw at the Rangers rearguard last year.
That’s one important player, but he’s not the only one flagging. Tomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky both played under Maurice in Toronto, but the ex-Maple Leafs have done little to help the Canes night in and night out and Kaberle was even scratched over the weekend. Another free agent from the summer, Anthony Stewart, has been a press box visitor lately as well.
It may be too late to salvage this season for Carolina, but Muller is regarded as one of the brighter young minds yet to helm his own NHL team and is well-suited for the Canes, who have several high-profile youngsters still learning the ropes.
“Not knowing what it was like to be a pro, he helped me so much,” said Milwaukee Admirals rookie center Michael Latta. “He’s very positive, he doesn’t get too down on guys. He jokes around with the guys, but he’s serious, too.”
While Muller’s tenure with the Admirals was a short one, his NHL future was obvious to those around him.
“All the guys knew from Day 1 he wouldn’t be here long,” Latta said.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN’s associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.