Muller firing signals more of the same in Carolina

Ken Campbell
Muller and Brind'Amour

One of the first things that came out of Ron Francis’ mouth after he was named GM of the Carolina Hurricanes was, “I’m my own man.” You have to wonder how much of that was genuine after he almost, but not quite, cleaned house when it came to the Hurricanes coaching staff.

Fire Kirk Muller? No issue there. The guy had parts of three seasons to get the Hurricanes into the playoffs and he couldn’t do it. Including shootout and overtime defeats, his teams lost 27 more games than they won. He couldn’t coax better seasons out of Eric and Jordan Staal, Alex Semin and Cam Ward.

But here’s the thing that rankles a little. Assistant coaches Dave Lewis and John MacLean were fired along with Muller. None of the three had any ties to the Hurricanes before they were hired. But Rod Brind’Amour, a loyal Hurricane who captained the team to its only Stanley Cup in 2006, was kept on.

I might be selling Brind’Amour short here. After all, he was almost a strength and conditioning coach for the team and spent an inordinate amount of time in the weight room with the Hurricanes young players. That’s all good, although you have to wonder if Brind’Amour’s emphasis on weights isn’t to the detriment of players sometimes. Sure, they have lots of strength and endurance, but would they be better served taking a more rounded approach to their conditioning? Brind’Amour was apparently a good mentor as well, with an ability to cut through the coddling and B.S. in his communications with players.

But it’s still disturbing that this organization has a penchant for hiring and retaining people whose primary credentials are that they were good company men. The front office is filled with former Canes or those loyal to owner Peter Karmanos and not much changed when Jim Rutherford stepped down and was replaced by Francis. The Mike Vellucci, a longtime coach-GM of the Plymouth Whalers team also owned by Karmanos and a draft pick of the Hartford Whalers, was also brought on board.

There was a time when it seemed you couldn’t get a job in Chicago unless you had spilled your own blood on the Indian head and that didn’t work out so well for them. It changed when they hired Mike Smith to be their GM and he brought Stan Bowman into the organization. Is Brind’Amour a valuable contributor who could someday have success as a head coach in the NHL? Possibly, but he was also a key member of the coaching staff that failed in Carolina.

Sports teams are in the business of winning and nothing sells the product more than that. But when they make front office moves, they’re also selling hope and change. If Brind’Amour gets the job to replace Muller, and he’s one of the front-runners to do so, you have to wonder how much of those two commodities there actually is on the horizon.

Two of the other leading candidates that immediately came to the fore were Kevin Dineen and New York Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. Notice the trend here? Dineen is a former Whaler and Hurricane player and Samuelsson is a former teammate for Francis, dating back to their days with the Whalers and their stunning trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991.

Now there’s nothing wrong with loyalty, but to promote a guy who has no head coaching experience as a reward for being part of a coaching staff that failed doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Look where extreme loyalty has gotten the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals over the years. Sometimes you have to go outside of your comfort zone and the Hurricanes aren’t going to have any long-term success until they come to that realization.