Can Kirk Muller Survive The Summer?

Cam Ward and Eric Staal (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)
Cam Ward and Eric Staal (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

It may not be over yet, but the seven games the Hurricanes have left to play won’t be putting them in position to continue their season past April 27th- game 48.

The hype surrounding this team before the season was warranted. They had acquired Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the draft and gave up a young skilled centre to do so in Brandon Sutter. This signing along with Alexander Semin’s one year deal- on paper- drastically improved their offense.

Starting the season with a healthy Cam Ward was also a plus, and a strong sophomore year from Jeff Skinner would feed the hungry expectations fans and analysts had. Rookie Defenseman Justin Faulk made an impression early as well as four year NHL veteran Jamie McBain.

The Hurricanes first twenty games proved to be a test to their new coach Kirk Muller and their new surroundings. They went 11-9 over their first 20 games securing them at the top of the southeast division.

The next twenty games from March to present day suggest a lack of cohesiveness and an inability to play without their veteran goaltender Cam Ward in net. Since March 3, the Hurricanes have gone 6-14. They have plummeted in the standings from top 3 in the east, to playoff position, and now battling in the basement with the Florida Panthers for 15th place in the East. To put that slide in perspective, they are tied with 36 points with the Calgary Flames and sit two points up on the Colorado Avalanche.

What has gone wrong? It’s not an easy question to answer. Any time a team full of talent and promise cannot continue to produce, or struggles to produce, it falls immediately on the coaching staff.

Kirk Muller.  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
Kirk Muller. (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Kirk Muller paid his coaching dues and was ready for a new step. He started his coaching career with the Golden Gaels of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. In 2005-06 while coaching the Golden Gaels, Muller also assisted in coaching two Team Canada teams; The Lotto Cup Tournament in Slovakia, and the U-18 World Championship. After these coaching stints, Muller was hired by the Montreal Canadiens in 2006 as an assistant coach. This is the position he filled for five years before becoming head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL in June 2011, and the Carolina Hurricanes Head Coach in November 2011, replacing Paul Maurice.

Nobody has a bad thing to say about Muller. A very likeable guy, one who worked his way through the NHL as a player and continued his career as a great leader until retirement in 2003. The hockey world was excited to see a great guy and fan favourite finally get a head coaching job in the NHL.

The talent level of the Hurricanes far surpasses the talent level of any of the teams they are partying with in the basement of the NHL standings. The Calgary Flames have experienced offensive and defensive woes, and goaltending consistency issues for years and have refused to start a rebuild. With the loss of Captain Jarome Iginla, the team is without an identity, and just floating along until the end of April.

JS Giguere Avalanche
(Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

The Colorado Avalanche started their season in the headlines holding out of sophomore Ryan O’Reilly’s contract extension. Not exactly the kind of thing you want hanging over your team. Their goaltending has not been spectacular, and a recent outburst from Jean-Sebastien Giguere showed the effort and want level has disappeared from the team.

The Florida Panthers have struggled to put together wins all season, and starting with a few banged up guys would prove to be anything but helpful. Their goaltending issues have been apparent, proving not one of the guys in their system is good enough, or ready to carry an NHL load as a number one starter. Their offense has been non-existent at times, and their defense has been lacklustre to put it lightly.

The real problem with the Hurricanes is the same one the New York Rangers are trying to figure out. With all the superstars and talented pieces, both teams were projected to not only make the playoffs but go deep and in some cases be in the Stanley Cup Final. At this point, the Rangers could be left out of the playoffs and see the Islanders squeak in.

John Tortorella’s name has been floating around as a possible pink slip recipient in the future if the Rangers miss the playoffs. This can only be the same fate for Kirk Muller this summer. With 7 games left on the Hurricanes schedule and a record of 17-22-2, the writing may be on the wall for GM Jim Rutherford.