Can Muller make short-term impact on PP, Staal?

Staff columnist - ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 28, 2011 

We're less than an hour away from the press conference introducing Kirk Muller as the Hurricanes' new head coach, and with a game tomorrow against the Florida Panthers -- one of his former teams -- he won't have much time to get his feet on the ground.

In the short term, though, there are two areas where he may be able to have a major, immediate impact on the Hurricanes: the power play, and Eric Staal.

In five seasons as an assistant coach in Montreal, under three different head coaches, Muller was popular with players and established himself as a solid Xs and Os coach and power-play innovator, but one who could never become head coach because he didn’t speak French -- an unofficial but critical consideration in that market. (Just as being friends with Peter Karmanos and Jim Rutherford is an unofficial but critical consideration in this market.)

Given his work on the power play there -- Montreal was seventh in the NHL last year and second two years ago -- it will be interesting to see what Muller does with the raw material on Carolina’s miserable power play, among the worst in the NHL. A combination of Staal, Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen, Joni Pitkanen and, yes, Tomas Kaberle should give him something to work with there.

Perhaps more important will be his relationship with Staal, who is enduring the most difficult season of his career. The Canes need more production and more leadership from their captain, and they need it soon.

Muller scored 357 NHL goals in his 19-season career. He was the No. 2 pick in the draft. He won a Stanley Cup. He twice served as captain. If anyone knows what Staal is going through, it’s Muller.

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