Just three days after taking over the Carolina Hurricanes, Kirk Muller has added a longtime former teammate to his coaching staff.
John MacLean, who earned his first head-coaching job one season ago in New Jersey, was fired after the Devils got off to a disastrous 9-22-2 start. Joining the Carolina staff marks his first return to an NHL job.
"I didn't think it would happen this quick, but I'm excited about it," MacLean said after Thursday's morning skate. "As soon as the opportunity arose, my passion came right back for the game to get back into it. I'm very excited to be part of it."
MacLean and Muller broke into the NHL together in 1984-85 with the New Jersey Devils, MacLean as a 19-year-old, Muller as an 18-year-old. They played together for seven seasons. They reunited toward the end of their careers, skating on the Dallas Stars' fourth line from 2000-2002. That unit, along with Mike Keane, was known as "The Grumpy Old Men."
"Johnny's going to run the PK and have a defined role," said Muller. "He's going to be behind the bench with me. He's going to grab forwards individually. We've got some young guys who can benefit from board work and little details in the game that are going to be really important."
The two men enjoyed similar production and longevity during their playing days. Muller registered 959 points in 1,349 regular season games, while MacLean put up 842 points in 1,194 games.
Even their apprenticeships as NHL coaches were similar. Muller spent five years in Montreal as an assistant before landing his first head-coaching job with Carolina, while MacLean spent six years in a support role in New Jersey. Through all of it, they have stayed in close contact.
"As far as being friends," said MacLean, "sometimes it helps that you can be brutally honest with situations and just know that it's for the good."
That will start with his evaluation of Carolina's penalty kill.
"Not major changes," he said, speaking of the NHL's 26th-rated unit. "There's maybe a little different thought to it, understanding (positioning) and stick position. We'll just try to baby step it through. The personnel is fine. The one thing this team does have is speed, and that's helpful in killing penalties. We have some guys that could be high-end penalty killers."
MacLean emphasized several times the nature of his new position — a support role for Muller. He's move beyond his first experience as a bench boss, and he's ready to help in Carolina.
"You're wounded, hurt, whatever," MacLean said. "You understand that it's part of the game and you get through it. You lick your wounds and get on it."