It’s not even lunch time and we’ve already seen two NHL coaching changes this morning. The one we care more about is the Carolina Hurricanes deciding to relieve Paul Maurice of his head coaching duties and the word is that he will be replace by long-time Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller. I have made statements defending Maurice and how I don’t think the team’s 8-13-4 record is completely his fault but with his contract expiring and the Canes rebuilding, I think a coaching change was inevitable.
Maurice has been a good coach for Carolina during his time here and I’m grateful for his contributions but I think it is safe to say that he wasn’t the right coach for rebuilding this team. I don’t think he “lost the locker room” or anything like that, but his decisions regarding the forward lines and limiting ice time for younger players indicated that he probably shouldn’t be the coach for Carolina’s rebuild process. What tells me this is him deciding to give younger forwards like Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe fourth line minutes (which is about 5-7 mins. a game with him) even after the former was playing better in a bigger role. I understand that Maurice has high expectations from younger players and wants to make sure they are ready before he puts them in a key role (see Jeff Skinner last year) but Boychuk was producing scoring chances at a higher rate than almost anyone else on the team. It’s really strange to me that he decided to place him back on the fourth line (and eventually send him back to Charlotte) after that, especially on a team that’s struggled to generate offense like Carolina has.
That said, there’s a lot of things going wrong that are beyond Maurice’s control. He has sheltered Eric Staal this season (51.3 OZone%) and the captain still hasn’t been able to get on the scoresheet consistently. Staal normally takes on tougher minutes than he has played this season but his struggles in October may have prompted Maurice to give him eaiser ice-time. He’s been slowly improving over the season and appears that he could be on the verge of a breakout soon, but Maurice clearly wasn’t getting the best play out of Staal. How much of the blame for that falls on Maurice is up for debate. What’s interesting is that he’s been giving tougher assignments to Jussi Jokinen & Jeff Skinner, the line that was sheltered last year, who have been producing despite the tougher assignments. Goalies Cam Ward and Brian Boucher both playing at below average levels also falls out of the coach’s responsibility.
As for Muller, he has spent four years as the Canadiens assistant coach and was one of the top candidates for one of the vacant NHL head coaching positions this summer but ultimately ended up in the AHL as the Milwaukee Admirals head coach. He only spent 17 games as the coach there but he has received some good comments from other coaches and media members there so I’m excited to see what he can do. Like I mentioned earlier, the team is in rebuild mode right now so it would be nice to have a coach who will work with the prospects and Charlotte call-ups better than Maurice has recently.
In the long run I am excited to see what Muller can bring and glad that the team decided to not delay the inevitable and take another step towards rebuilding. This could also lead to some potential roster shake-ups among other things so I’m very intrigued to see what else happens in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, I don’t think Muller will be able to bring that much improvement this season because history has shown that a coaching change makes a team roughly only one win better than they are now. The Canes have a team Fenwick rating of 47% with the score tied and that’s even with Staal’s re-emergence so Muller’s got his work cut out for him this season.
I wish Maurice the best in his future endeavors and hope that he can find another head coaching job somewhere because I think there’s still a fit for him in the NHL but it just wasn’t in Carolina anymore. The Canes appear to have their head coach for the foreseeable future so now it’s up to the players to start performing better and for GM Jim Rutherford to make the right moves when necessary because there’s still a lot of work to be done with this roster if the Canes want to become a playoff team again.