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Canadiens look to Muller to spark power play, bring experience to staff

Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller watches the action against the Buffalo Sabres during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., on March 5, 2013. Kirk Muller is returning to the Montreal Canadiens as an associate coach.The former Canadiens captain, who was an assistant coach in Montreal from 2006 to 2011, will rejoin the Canadiens staff under head coach Michel Therrien, the NHL club announced Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Karl B DeBlaker
June 03, 2016 - 10:19 AM

MONTREAL - Kirk Muller received plenty of phone calls when it became known he was leaving the St. Louis Blues, but he jumped at the chance to return to the Montreal Canadiens as an associate coach.

Muller, a former Canadiens player, captain and assistant coach, was sold on signing with Montreal after a chat with head coach Michel Therrien. Muller will be in charge of working with the forwards and fixing a woeful power play that ranked 25th in the NHL this season with a 16.2 per cent success rate.

"I had several teams call pretty quickly but one that happened right away was from Michel," Muller said Friday during a conference call. "We had a good long chat and he excited me about what was happening in Montreal. It was an easy conversation."

Among the callers were teams wanting Muller to interview for head coaching jobs — Calgary and Anaheim have vacancies — but he preferred to take a job as "associate" coach, a step up from assistant coach, on a team coming off a disastrous 2015-16 campaign. The Canadiens had a record start but collapsed and missed the playoffs after star goalie Carey Price was injured in late November.

"I've had the experience of being a head coach and I'm very comfortable now with not being head coach," said Muller, seen by some as an eventual successor to Therrien. "This is the role I wanted to do now."

With Price set to return from knee surgery, the Canadiens have the players to be a strong team, especially if they can score more with the man advantage.

"You've got the best goalie in the world," said Muller. "Him coming back and being the goalie he is would make any team stronger."

He also looks forward to working with the team's mostly young skaters, including captain Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and flashy defenceman P.K. Subban, who was among the first to call Muller and welcome him back to Montreal. Muller called Subban "a great player."

Muller has a record of getting the best out of his power-play units. The Blues ranked sixth in the league at 21.5 per cent. As an assistant coach from 2006 to 2011, the Canadiens power play was at or near the top of the NHL nearly every season.

The Kingston, Ont., native, left to become head coach of the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals and was promoted early in his first season to head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. He joined St. Louis as an assistant to Ken Hitchcock in 2014.

When Muller informed St. Louis this week he would not return, Therrien got general manager Marc Bergevin to ask his Blues counterpart, Doug Armstrong, for permission to talk to Muller. Once Muller agreed Thursday, Therrien urged Bergevin to "make sure you close the deal." It was done that day.

Muller should also help as a respected figure in the dressing room.

"He's a good communicator," said Therrien. "I like his leadership.

"He knows the organization. He won a Stanley Cup (in 1993) with the Canadiens. And he had a lot of success in the past on the power play. I don't hide it. Last year our power play had difficulties."

Therrien wasn't looking for an extra coach until one with Muller's credentials came available. The team did not say how long his contract runs, except that it is a long-term deal.

All the other assistants — J.J. Daigneault, Dan Lacroix, Clement Jodoin and Stephane Waite — will stay on, but one will be moved to the pressbox so Muller can join Therrien behind the bench. And some assignments will change.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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