When it was announced Thursday night that the Montreal Canadiens re-hired Kirk Muller, it was met with optimism and surprise. General manager Marc Bergevin remained loyal to his coaching staff despite a dismal season and it appeared no changes were in sight behind the bench. The timing of it was also quick considering Muller had just left the St. Louis Blues and he now returns as associate coach.
The Need For a New Voice
Re-hiring Muller is arguably the team’s best move in the past year. Bergevin was unwilling to fire the coaching staff, so the least he could do was get another voice behind the bench and he got it. During Muller’s first coaching tenure as assistant from 2006-11, Montreal’s power play was second in the league and without him, it has been one of the worst.
The Montreal power play has been notoriously bad in recent years. It is mind boggling considering the quality of players Montreal throws out. The current issue is not enough pucks get to the net and they rely too heavily on PK Subban’s one timer and the opposition has learned to defend against that strategy. Between Subban’s heavy shot and Alex Galchenyuk’s one timer from the circle, the Habs have two strong shooting weapons in addition to Andrei Markov making plays at the point and Brendan Gallagher providing a scrappy net front presence.
#Habs hire Kirk Muller as associate coach
Habs PP from 2006-11 (w/Muller): 21.6% (2nd)
Habs PP since 2011 (w/o Muller): 16.7% (26th)
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) June 2, 2016
Another strong asset that Muller possesses is communication skills. The Habs plummeted to third last overall the season after Muller left and the void was filled for a few years by Gerard Gallant, who did a very good job as one of Michel Therrien’s assistants. But when Gallant left for a head coaching job in Florida, that communication bridge between the players and Therrien was lost. In Muller, they bring in a coach who was loved by the players during his first tenure and he has had a few years away gaining more experience. Since 2011, he has been a head coach in the AHL and the NHL, as well as an assistant in St. Louis alongside Ken Hitchcock.
More than ever, coaches need to be able to communicate with their players. Old school tactics don’t work on today’s players and Therrien doesn’t have the communication skills of Muller and Gallant.
Michel Therrien confirms that some responsibilities will change, but no coaches will leave. Kirk will be behind the bench. #GoHabsGo
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) June 3, 2016
An Excellent Hire
What is significant about this move is that Muller has more authority than the other assistant coaches. As an associate coach, he is second in command behind the bench. Clearly after the disaster that was last season, fresh blood was needed as Therrien was not getting the job done. Muller’s deal is for multiple years which begs the question if the Habs see Muller as a replacement for Therrien one day. If Muller revitalizes the Habs, Therrien doesn’t go anywhere. But if things start to slide again, does Therrien finally get the walking papers in favour of Muller?
Getting Muller was a strong move by management. With an awful power play and the fact that he is a players’ coach, it is clear that Muller has been missed. As an ex-Habs player and assistant coach, Muller understands the Montreal market which should make his transition back easier. Muller won’t transform the Habs overnight but if this tenure is anything like his last one in Montreal, the team is in good hands.