Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

THE CONTENDER: Kirk Muller

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HE is just about everything every organization seeks in a head coach:

An ex-player with outstanding credentials, including a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic appearance who was drafted second overall to Mario Lemieux in 1984.

He is an excellent communicator, motivator and an outstanding strategist credited for turning the Montreal Canadiens penalty kill into a dominant unit.

And, to top it all off, the man looks damn good in a suit.

Kirk Muller is the hot coaching candidate being tossed around this spring in the NHL neighbourhood -- he has or will apparently interview in Ottawa, Minnesota, Dallas and New Jersey.

And now he's appeared on the candidate list here in Winnipeg, too, and will soon to be meeting with Kevin Cheveldayoff & Co.

Even the Montreal Canadiens -- his employer since 2006 -- are convinced they will lose the 45-year-old Kingston, Ont., product to an NHL or AHL head-coaching gig.

"Kirk has contributed enormously to the success of our team in recent seasons," Canadiens coach Jacques Martin told reporters this week at Montreal's development camp. "He has done a good job for us and I think he is ready."

The only risk in hiring Muller, it would seem, is this: his lone stint as a head coach came in 2005-06 with Queen's University. It's why Ken Hitchcock's name keeps popping up in NHL circles. And Marc Crawford, Michel Therrien and Mike Keenan.

It's why Craig MacTavish is the leading candidate in Minnesota. To some extent, it might also explain why Paul MacLean got the Senators job on Tuesday, why Glen Gulutzan appears to be the front-runner in Dallas and Binghamton Senators boss Kurt Kleinedorst in New Jersey -- all three have previous head-coaching experience in the minors.

All that said, as much as there is risk in hiring a rookie head coach -- see: John MacLean in Jersey, Todd Richards in Minnesota -- there is also a danger in recycling a familiar name and turning away from fresh new ideas. Think Guy Boucher and what he did with the Tampa Bay Lightning this year.

In its short stint at the rudder of an NHL franchise the True North braintrust has already proven it isn't afraid to make change, jettisoning GM Rick Dudley and some of the Thrashers' support staff. And when they trotted out Kevin Cheveldayoff and Craig Heisinger as the two men who will lead the hockey operations department, they sent a clear message to the rest of the NHL that may work in Muller's favour: members of the old boys network need not apply.

-- Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2011 C2

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