(This is number one in a series of round table discussions we will have at Canes Country this offseason.)
The Carolina Hurricanes have some major decisions to make. One of them is whether or not to bring back head coach Kirk Muller for another season behind the bench. Muller has one more year left on his contract, but has yet to have an official vote of confidence from management.
Last week we ran a poll here on the blog asking for reader feedback and we got plenty of it. Out of over 800 respondents, 39% supported the coach's return, in one way or the other, while 57% want him replaced.
There is similar discord between the contributors of the blog.
I asked our staff the following question and this is what they came up with. "If you were Carolina GM, would you bring Kirk Muller back for next season, and if so, why? If not, who would you hire to replace him?"
First up will be the Muller supporters:
Brian LeBlanc - Editor
So should Muller stay? No, not if we base it on the above perceptions. Muller failed to right Carolina's shaky special teams, and he also proved to lack the experience to right the Hurricanes' ship. His "aw shucks" post game interviews fed the belief that Muller was in over his head, and despite Jim Rutherford's solid postseason moves -- namely the rebuilt defense and addition of Anton Khudobin -- Muller's squad were again out of the playoff picture relatively early. The Hurricanes can't afford another season that is essentially over before April, and it might be too late if the front office waits until the team to struggle in October to make a move.
Who should Carolina look to? If they want experience, both Barry Trotz and Ron Wilson are available. Neither is a slam-dunk must hire, but both are proven behind the bench. Within the organization, Plymouth Whalers GM/coach Mike Vellucci's name has been mentioned as a possibility in Raleigh, but perhaps he's more likely to land a front office job (assistant GM to expected GM Ron Francis) than as bench boss. Don't rule out current Adirondack Phantoms head coach Terry Murray, who has a lot of experience running an NHL squad but will be 64 when next season begins.
My answer is no, I would not bring back Kirk Muller. This was going to be the year, where Muller had a full training camp to instill his system and he would get the Canes back to the postseason. But it’s mid-April and yet again the Canes have already packed up their gear and many are still wondering what exactly Carolina’s/Muller’s system is. The players must take some responsibility for their performance, but I don’t believe Muller’s game plan ever put them in position to maximize their abilities. Only one regular (Skinner) actually showed somewhat significant improvement over the prior season, while more than a couple showed a dramatic decrease in production. And over the past two seasons, Muller took two good, productive fan favorites and rode them out of town, only to see them have instant success with their new team. I just don’t believe his style is what this team needs and it might have been a little too early for him to get a NHL head coaching job.
In my opinion, the leading candidate to replace Muller should be Kevin Dineen. Dineen is a fiery, aggressive coach that will push his players to be better and isn’t afraid to ruffle some feathers. But at the same time, former players speak highly of him and he has had some success at every level he’s coached. He spent six seasons in the AHL, leading his team to two division titles and five playoff appearances. He also spent two + seasons with the Florida Panthers, leading them to a Southeast Division title in 11/12, their first playoff appearance since the 99/00 season. In his two full seasons with the Panthers, his team’s PP ranked in the top 7 both years and combined to have a 19.2% success rate. Dineen also has some experience with the Whalers/Hurricanes organization and recently coach the Canadian women to gold in Sochi. I think his style and experience, along with some other personnel moves, is just what this team needs to get back in the playoffs.
Jamie Kellner - Phoblographer - Editor
My first reaction when you asked the question:
Unlike many successful teams, the Hurricanes are not blessed with great depth of talent. That is not on the head coach. But it is on the coach to optimize the talents of the players that he is given, and I don't think this coach has done that. It's my view that a substantial subset of the talent has underperformed to its skill set. Not only that, but there are far too many players that over the years I respected for their character and commitment to the game that don't appear to mesh with what this particular coach brought to the table. But even more disturbing is I see no improvement year-over-year in results despite what appears to be an upgrade in personnel, and there's no accountability to acknowledge real holes in the team's performance nor a coherent plan to correct them, except with platitudes that the system is working and the team just needs to buy into it, work harder, play the right way, and get hurt less. Tweaks and patience.