Flyers Interested in Kirk Muller as Sleeper Coaching Candidate

The coaching search continues for the Philadelphia Flyers. Uncertainty about the overall direction of the franchise looms, and the announcement of a new head coach will be the first major indicator of what to expect for an organization that has spiraled into futility over the past two seasons. The most recognizable available names like John Tortorella and Barry Trotz have dominated the conversation, but Calgary Flames associate coach Kirk Muller has now emerged as a darkhorse candidate to earn the nod.

Related: Measuring Tortorella As a Fit for Flyers Head Coach

John Kincade of 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia first brought up Muller shortly after the regular season ended on April 29 as a potentially attractive candidate. Elliotte Friedman reopened the conversation on the 32 Thoughts podcast last week.

Kirk Muller’s Resume

Muller has spent 13 seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL, including two separate five-year stints with the Montreal Canadiens. His only experience as a full-time head coach came with the Carolina Hurricanes from 2011-2014. He didn’t reach the playoffs in any of his three seasons. During the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, former Canadiens head coach Claude Julien abruptly left the Toronto bubble because of health concerns. Muller stepped in on an interim basis.

Kirk Muller
Kirk Muller, Calgary Flames (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

The Canadiens, who sat 24th in the NHL standings at the time of the pause of March 2020, gave the Flyers all they could handle in a tightly-fought, six-game series in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. They ultimately fell to the Flyers, who entered the series as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the heavy favorite.

The 56-year-old played in 1349 NHL games with six teams from 1984-2003. He won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Canadiens in 1993. Lengthy experience in the league works to a head coach’s advantage, especially in the modern age when the ability to relate to players receives significant emphasis.

Muller’s Biggest Appeal

Muller spent the 2021-22 season working under head coach Darryl Sutter in Calgary. The logic of picking from the coaching tree of a successful bench boss who fueled an impressive turnaround for the Flames this year is the biggest appeal of Muller’s candidacy. 

Sutter helped the Flames bounce back from the disappointment of missing the playoffs in 2020-21 in a weak, seven-team Scotiabank North Division to rise to the top of the Pacific Division in 2021-22. They posted a stellar 2.51 goals against average (GAA) and allowed just six more goals than the league-leading Hurricanes. The need for better defensive structure is glaring in Philadelphia. The Flyers are tied with the New Jersey Devils for the most goals allowed during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. They have a minus-125 goal differential and the league’s worst penalty kill over that span.

The Flames entered the season with an added emphasis on the “hard to play against” cliche, which has been used tirelessly throughout the Flyers organization. They combined career-best seasons from Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane with valuable secondary additions like Blake Coleman and Nikita Zadorov to change their team identity. Friedman talked about the specific importance of Muller’s role with Elias Lindholm, a Selke Trophy finalist, and his work with crafting the two-way game of some of Calgary’s forwards.

Fit for the Flyers

The Flyers will pursue big names with greater appeal than a sleeper candidate like Muller. Although the big name is not always the right move, other qualified candidates bring the same advantages that Muller would bring to the table. If the “harder to play against” mantra is the focus, Tortorella would be a better option. If defensive structure is the focus, Trotz would be a better option. The decision to hire Muller would likely indicate that more coveted candidates aren’t interested in coaching in Philadelphia.

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz
Former New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Former general manager Ron Hextall hired Dave Hakstol, a largely unknown candidate, as head coach in 2015. The move didn’t work out, and hindsight suggests that a more accomplished head coach with a longer track record would’ve been a better choice. An outside-the-box candidate isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but Muller is not the best sleeper option. Jim Montgomery checks the boxes as a more attractive candidate poised for a second chance as an NHL head coach. His merits outweigh the benefit of a coach like Muller who has some notable positives but lacks a definitive advantage to point to as the solution to the long-term problem in Philadelphia.

  

Sign up for our regular 'Flyers Newsletter' for all the latest.