RALEIGH — It doesn't appear the Carolina Hurricanes are going to get the immediate burst of energy and accompanying success that often follows a coaching change. They're not good enough even for that.
Kirk Muller remained relentlessly upbeat even in the face of Thursday's 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers, his second since taking over for Paul Maurice on Monday. It was a remarkable feat considering the amount of work that clearly lies ahead for the new coach.
With the score tied 2-2, a pair of basic defensive breakdowns less than two minutes apart in the second period led to a pair of Rangers goals - a scenario that has been all too familiar this season. If anyone wished for a quick fix, that merely swapping out one coach for a more enthusiastic model would turn things around, those hopes have been quickly dismissed.
Which isn't to absolve Maurice of any blame for where the Hurricanes are right now; clearly, change was needed. But it does underline just how much weak this team is no matter who's coaching it, and despite Eric Staal recording four points in the past three games.
"We've only just had the one practice," Muller said. "It's got to take a little time. They're trying. There's a couple little situations where there was a little confusion, and then there's the other part, where you just can't get beat one-on-one."
It isn't just Muller who has work to do. Bringing him in was the first step in a long-term process, which is why he's under contract through 2015. While Muller does the best he can with the players he has, general manager Jim Rutherford needs to get Muller some new ones.
Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, in an interview with Sports Illustrated's website, offered a scathing assessment of Carolina's roster: "They've got Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. Tuomo Ruutu's OK.
But they don't have any other forwards. Their defense corps, he keeps getting recycled guys. How can you keep winning with recycled players?" At least he liked Cam Ward.
Over the past few days, there was growing hope the roster might change dramatically, as the Anaheim Ducks not-so-quietly (but slightly
inexplicably) made it clear that power forward Bobby Ryan, a 30-goal scorer in each of the last three seasons, was available in a desperate move to shake-up their team with a blockbuster deal.
Whether the Canes even had the assets to stay in the bidding was uncertain, but their interest was not. Ryan would have been an ideal fit on Staal's wing, one Staal has lacked his entire career. Alas, the Ducks decided to fire coach Randy Carlyle instead, replacing him with former Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who spent all of 65 hours without a job.
Still, there were scouts from 10 teams in attendance at the RBC Center on Thursday, and a similar number in Charlotte on Wednesday to watch Carolina's prospects play for the Checkers. It's the shopping season in the NHL, with struggling teams looking to upgrade their rosters while those dealing from a position of strength circle like vultures.
Other than the coaching change, Rutherford's moves so far have been modest, claiming Andreas Nodl from the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday and adding Muller's former teammate John MacLean, the former New Jersey Devils coach, as an assistant Thursday.
Bigger changes are coming. They have to be. What's here now isn't working, no matter who the coach is. Muller's enthusiasm hasn't shaken anything loose yet. Replacing Maurice with Muller was the first step, and in the right direction, but Rutherford can't stop now.