RALEIGH — Kirk Muller has won a Stanley Cup, is a former NHL All-Star and was an assistant coach for five seasons for the Montreal Canadiens after retiring as a player.
"It's been a fun path so far," Muller said.
But tonight, Muller embarks on a new path. Named Monday as the Carolina Hurricanes' replacement for fired head coach Paul Maurice, Muller will go behind the bench for the first time to direct an NHL team.
"I'm excited, but that's good," Muller said at his introductory news conference Monday. "You need to have those butterflies. It's a game, but it's fun."
Muller, 45, will take over a Hurricanes team that is 8-13-4, that has lost its past three games and 10 of its past 13. Carolina is currently 14th in the NHL's Eastern Conference, ahead of only the New York Islanders.
"It's all about the players, and hopefully I can come in and get them to feel good, and get them to play at the level they're capable of, and let them have some fun," Muller said. "And we'll go from there."
Muller will meet the Hurricanes players today at the RBC Center. He will take them through the morning skate, then coach them this evening against the Florida Panthers, the surprise leaders of the Southeast Division.
In his five seasons as an assistant in Montreal, Muller drew praise for being able to relate and communicate with the players. But he had not been a head coach on the professional level until June, when he agreed to become head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Nashville Predators.
The Admirals played Saturday and Sunday in Charlotte against the Checkers, the Canes' AHL affiliate. Muller met Sunday with Hurricanes president and general manager Jim Rutherford, returned to Milwaukee, then talked again with Rutherford late Sunday night when the offer officially was extended.
Rutherford said Muller's contract would pay him through the end of this season, then three more seasons. The financial details were not disclosed.
Maurice's assistant coaches - Dave Lewis, Tom Barrasso and Rod Brind'Amour - were retained. Lewis, who handles the Canes' defensemen, was Muller's teammate and roommate when they played for the New Jersey Devils.
"He exudes confidence and character," Lewis said.
Maurice coached 920 games with the franchise. He led the Hurricanes to the 2002 Stanley Cup final, was fired in December 2003, then rehired in December 2008 when Peter Laviolette was fired.
The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2009 and then missed the playoffs the past two seasons. Rutherford said he talked with Maurice - who had one year remaining on his contract - in the summer about a move to the front office, but the decision was made for him to stay as coach.
Speculation about Maurice's job mounted the past few weeks as the Canes lost games and dropped in the standings. But Rutherford said the move made Monday was more about the team than economics or ticket sales.
"My focus has to be on what's right for the team," Rutherford said. "I don't blame the fans. I'm the same as they are, as frustrated and concerned about where the team is going. But if the team is going in the right direction the economics take care of themselves."
One Canes fan, C.J. Butler of Cary, said the Canes waited too long to make a change.
"This guy would have to be Captain (James T.) Kirk ... to get us in the playoffs now," Butler said of Muller.
Other fans questioned why Rutherford didn't hire Jeff Daniels, the Checkers' head coach. A former Canes player, Daniels was an assistant coach on Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup champions and has become a successful AHL coach in the Canes' organization.
Rutherford said he talked with Daniels but decided it was best not to disrupt Daniels' work in developing the Canes' top prospects.
"I think he understands," Rutherford said. "I have a lot of respect for Jeff. He's done everything he can to position himself to be a head coach and believe he will be a head coach at some point.
"At the end of the process, I really wanted to bring somebody in who had some ideas from another organization. ... Kirk will bring some new, fresh ideas to the team."
Daniels, contacted Monday, said, "Obviously at some point I'd like to get up to the NHL. My time is not right now. I'll do what I've been doing in Charlotte, working with the young guys, and hopefully one day it will happen."
Canes fan Jordan Brooks of Raleigh was one who applauded the decision to go outside the organization for a hire.
"Not going with Daniels or Rod Brind'Amour tells me they're doing a 180, which is probably a good move," Brooks said. "I still think they should have gone with a name, someone who has been a head (NHL) coach."
Muller was a six-time NHL All-Star in his 19 seasons in the NHL and a member of the 1993 Canadiens Stanley Cup champs. The Kingston, Ont., native served as captain of the New Jersey Devils and Canadiens and closed his career with 357 goals and 602 assists in 1,349 career games.
Rutherford said he wanted to see a "consistent work ethic" and restored confidence in the players. He also said he would try to trade for another forward, possibly trading a defenseman.
Muller faces several challenges. Canes captain Eric Staal has had a slow start in terms of point production. Goals have been hard to come by for this Canes team, and the power play has been punchless. There have been defensive lapses.
"I'm anxious to get to work," Muller said.