Kirk Muller appears to be a surefire future NHL coach, having spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens after a standout 19-season career as a player.
Muller interviewed for several vacant NHL coaching positions over the past month before deciding the American Hockey League might be a good starting point. On Monday, he was named the head coach of the Nashville Predators' AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
"It's a great opportunity for me to move forward in my career," the 45-year-old Muller said during a conference call with the media. "I'm really excited to go to Milwaukee. It's great to join the Nashville organization here -- the culture and the people, going through this process the last week to 10 days, it was convincing enough for me to know I can go down to Milwaukee and be supported by really good people."
Muller said he talked with Ottawa, Minnesota, Dallas and New Jersey about their coaching vacancies before turning his attention to the AHL level. Milwaukee's previous coach, Lane Lambert, was named a new assistant coach by the Predators earlier this month, and Poile needed to find someone capable of continuing the run of success enjoyed by the Admirals, who have won at least 40 games and recorded at least 90 points in eight consecutive seasons. They've won four division titles and one Calder Cup over that span, while consistently supplying Nashville with NHL-ready talent.
"Kirk Muller was everything we were looking for in our development coach," Poile said in a statement. "With his playing pedigree, experience as a captain and Stanley Cup winner, and his solid communication skills, we feel our young players and prospects are in great hands."
Muller, a native of Kingston, Ont., is credited for transforming Montreal's penalty-killing unit that has finished in the top half of the League each season since his arrival, including a seventh-place ranking in 2010-11. The Canadiens did not give up a power-play goal in their first-round series loss to the Bruins, going 21-for-21. During his second season behind the Montreal bench in 2007-08, the club posted its best record since the 1988-89 club the advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, going an Eastern Conference best 47-25-10 (105 points).
In accepting the Milwaukee job, Muller made a point to thank people throughout the Montreal organization who helped him get started in coaching, including Bob Gainey, Guy Carbonneau and current Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, as well as GM Pierre Gauthier. He also made it clear he's ready to move forward and develop his own style behind the bench.
"I expect it to be a lot more work," Muller said. "My job and role in Montreal -- working with the special teams and the last five years being out there and working with the players, dealing with them one-on-one in daily situations that occur -- that's not going to change much. I'm a big believer in communication and working with players, being open-minded and understanding how the new generation of players need to be coached as opposed to guys like myself when we played. Being head coach, you have more responsibility and longer hours, but I'm prepared to do that, roll my sleeves up and get to work."
Muller is in Nashville this week for the team's player development camp and plans on getting to know as many guys coming through the organization as possible. What he's heard so far about the atmosphere in Milwaukee encourages him greatly.
"I just know Steve Begin -- he was in Montreal when I was there," Muller said of the veteran forward who played two games with Nashville this past season but spent most of his time with the Admirals. "I talked to Steve and he said it's a good culture there, good hard-working players. I'll use this week to get up to speed more on the whole personnel group."
"Kirk Muller was everything we were looking for in our development coach. With his playing pedigree, experience as a captain and Stanley Cup winner, and his solid communication skills, we feel our young players and prospects are in great hands." -- Predators General Manager David Poile
Muller also received a phone call from Predators coach Barry Trotz checking in and wishing him well, which made a positive impact on him.
"That whole transition and process what was really impressed me, the reputation these guys have about loyalty and dedication to Milwaukee," Muller said. "This is the way to develop players who can come and play [in Nashville], creating a winning atmosphere down there at the same time. It was something I really wanted to get involved with. They put a good team in Milwaukee year after year, and when you add it all up it looks like a place I can go and grow with these guys and get better as a coach and work with quality people."
Prior to joining the Montreal staff on June 20, 2006, Muller spent one season as head coach of the Queen's University Golden Gaels (Canadian University) in his hometown of Kingston. He also served as an assistant coach on Canada's entries at the 2005 Lotto Cup Tournament, winning a gold medal, and the 2006 Under-18 World Championships.
The No. 2 pick by New Jersey in the 1984 Entry Draft, Muller posted 357 goals and 959 points in 1,349 regular-season games for the Devils, Canadiens, Islanders, Maple Leafs, Panthers and Stars. He added 33 goals and 69 points in 127 playoff games, and won the Stanley Cup with Montreal in 1993. The nine-time 20-goal scorer and five-time 30-goal man played in six NHL All-Star Games (1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993), with his best season coming in 1992-93, when the left winger tied a career-high with 94 points (37g-57a) and pitched in 17 (10g-7a) more during the run to the Cup. He also represented Canada at four World Championships (1985, 1986, 1987, 1989) and in the 1984 Olympics.