There are four current NHL coaching vacancies (Atlanta, Columbus, New Jersey, Tampa Bay) and some real good candidates under consideration. It's time to add another, as yet undiscussed, contender.
A good post-season always thrusts people into the spotlight, and Montreal's early-round success is the biggest story so far. They've needed the maximum 14 games, but that shouldn't take anything away from the Canadiens' brilliant preparation for both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
This isn't to say Muller is solely responsible, but anyone who watched his 19-year career can see him in the plan. The Canadiens found ways to neutralize and frustrate the league's three most dangerous offensive players - Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It's really an amazing accomplishment, and it's the kind of thing Muller would do many times in his 1,349-game NHL lifetime.
Clearly, Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin respects his expertise, since Muller gets prime face time during in-game timeouts. However, his greatest asset may be in understanding every possible emotion a player can go through.
Think about it:
• He was drafted into a laughingstock (New Jersey) and helped build the attitude that turned the Devils into a winner.
• He won a Stanley Cup in one of the NHL's most pressurized markets, as the 1993 Canadiens' second-leading regular-season and playoff scorer.
• He was everything from a first-liner to a fourth-liner, a centre and a winger. He knows what it's like to play every night, to battle back from injury, to being a healthy scratch. He understands what it's like to enjoy being in a city and to be unhappy in a situation (as he was with the Islanders). He recognizes how, as you age, you must adjust your game to survive.
• Among the coaches he played for: Pat Burns, Jacques Demers, Mike Milbury, Bryan Murray, Terry Murray, Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett and Lindy Ruff (as an assistant). That's a terrific spectrum of attitudes and approaches.
• He's spent the last four years as an assistant in Montreal, seeing the franchise rise, collapse and rise again.
It's an impressive resume. I've mentioned this recently, but something Bill Guerin said as the playoffs began has really stuck with me. Guerin talked about how X's and O's are important, but not as much as getting players to want to compete for you. Another general manager mentioned how this generation of player needs a coach who can recognize how to properly motivate each individual.
Muller's experience would seem to be perfect for that. And, it was him who told the Canadiens prior to Wednesday night's Game 7, "You're already heroes in Montreal. Are you satisfied with that? Or do you want your legacy to be even greater?"
Clearly, that message was understood.
The only concern I've heard about his potential candidacy is this: Will one of the game's nicest people be able to crack the whip? I honestly don't know the answer to that question.
But we do know this: He's played a major role in putting together the penalty-killing unit that went 32-for-33 against Washington and 21-of-25 versus Pittsburgh after the nightmarish Game 1. (That includes a crucial 6-for-6 in the decider.)
He's helped put together a stingy defensive strategy that eliminated the President's Trophy winners and defending Stanley Cup champions. He's been around the NHL for 23 years as a player and coach.
It's rarely a good idea for assistants to take over in their current situations, so Muller needs to spread his wings and leave Montreal. He deserves the opportunity.
His time has come.
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