The last-place Carolina Hurricanes fired coach Paul Maurice for the second time in less than a decade Monday and replaced him with former All-Star Kirk Muller.
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Muller begins his first NHL head coaching job with a slumping team that has made one playoff appearance since 2006 and has lost 10 of 13 games. He is in his first season coaching the Nashville Predators’ AHL affiliate in Milwaukee after spending five seasons on the Montreal Canadiens’ staff. He played 19 seasons in the NHL, made six All-Star teams and led the Canadiens to their last Stanley Cup.
”Kirk is a proven leader and motivator, and he has strong communication skills,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. ”We feel confident that he is the right man to lead our team now and in the future.”
Muller was to be introduced at an afternoon news conference.
Carolina dropped to 8-13-4 following Sunday night’s 4-3 loss at Ottawa, its third in a row. The Hurricanes are 14th in the Eastern Conference and play Southeast Division leader Florida on Tuesday night to begin a three-game homestand.
Maurice became the second coach in his division to lose his job Monday. His firing was announced about 90 minutes after the Washington Capitals fired Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Dale Hunter. That means every team in the division except Tampa Bay – which hired Guy Boucher in 2010 – has changed coaches since last spring.
The 45-year-old Muller was a star center who scored 30 or more goals five times and had seven 70-point seasons. Now he will be asked to revive a Carolina team that ranks 28th in the league in goals allowed, giving up an average of 3.24, and has one of the worst power-play units in the NHL, scoring on just 12.2 percent of its chances with the man advantage.
Maurice, who helped shepherd the club’s move from Hartford to North Carolina in the late 1990s, returned to the Hurricanes in December 2008 when Peter Laviolette was fired. He guided their run to the 2009 Eastern Conference final, the club’s only postseason berth since they won the Cup in 2006.
Before that, they hadn’t reached the playoffs since Maurice led them to the 2002 Stanley Cup final – the highlight of his first stint with the team.
Maurice received a three-year contract in 2009 that ran through this season. His combined record with the team was 384-391-145, and his career record of 460-457-167 includes two years with Toronto sandwiched by his stints with Carolina.
Maurice, who did not immediately return a text message left Monday by The Associated Press seeking comment, was first fired by Carolina in 2003-04 following an 8-14-8-2 start.
Maurice holds the Hurricanes’ career coaching record with 25 playoff victories, but none came in the previous two seasons. The 2009-10 team set a club record with a 14-game winless streak, and last year’s group finished one victory shy of making the playoffs when it lost its finale on home ice.