Kirk Muller: From NHL Player to NHL Coach

Born on February 8th 1966, Kirk Muller was born and raised in the hockey hotbed of Kingston, Ontario, a city in Eastern Ontario located halfway between Toronto and Montreal. In addition to Kirk Muller, several other hockey stars, including Kirk Muller’s future NHL teammate Doug Gilmour, Bernie Nicholls and legendary NHL coach and commentator Don Cherry also have ties to Kingston. Kirk Muller rapidly rose through Kingston’s minor hockey ranks. For the 1980-81 season, Kirk Muller made the jump to the junior ranks, joining the Kingston Voyagers Jr. B team at just 14 years old. Playing that season with players as much as 6 years older then him, Kirk Muller netted 17 goals, 37 assists for 54 points in just 42 Jr. B games for the Voyagers. During this season, Kirk Muller also made his OHL debut, appearing in 2 games with his hometown Kingston Canadians (now the Kingston Frontenacs). Despite still being an underage player, Kirk Muller would join the Canadians on a fulltime basis for the 1981-82 season, during which he accumulated 51 points in 67 games as a 15 year old.

Now of age to formally enter the OHL, Kirk Muller was required to enter the OHL Draft. The Guelph Platers selected Muller first overall in the 1982 OHL Priority Selection. Appearing in 66 games in his first season with the Guelph Platers, Kirk Muller would score 52 goals, and 60 assists for a total of 112 points. For the 1983-84 season, Kirk Muller’s NHL Draft year, he’d divide the season between the Guelph Platers and the Canadian National Team, which included him participating in the 1984 World Junior Hockey Championships in Norrkoping and Nykoping, Sweden, and the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. This arrangement with the Canadian National Team did not sit well initially with the Guelph Platers’ ownership, as they were upset about losing their star player for a significant amount of time. However the Guelph Platers and the Canadian National Team later came to an agreement that allowed Kirk Muller to partake in the Olympic Winter Games. In his shortened 49 game season with the Platers, Muller would net 31 goals, and 63 assists for a total of 94 points. Despite being overshadowed for much of his NHL Draft season by Mario Lemieux, who was shattering records in the QMJHL, Kirk Muller was still regarded as a top notch prospect heading into the 1984 NHL Draft. The New Jersey Devils, who lost out on the 1st overall pick after defeating the Penguins on the last day of the 1983-84 season, quickly snapped up Kirk Muller 2nd overall after the Penguins drafted Lemieux 1st. Muller was apart of a very deep draft class that included Gary Roberts, Shayne Corson, Ed Olcczyk and Al Iafrate, and of course Mario Lemieux. Despite still having 2 years of eligibility left in the OHL, Kirk Muller had already proven he’d done everything he could do at the junior level, and immediately made the jump to the New Jersey Devils as an 18 year old for the 1984-85 season.

Muller would make an immediate impact in his first season with the Devils, scoring 17 goals, and adding 37 assists for 54 points while appearing in all 80 regular season games for the Devils. Muller’s numbers would consistently rise over the next 2 seasons, netting 25 goals, and 66 points through 77 games in his second season and 26 goals, and 76 points in 79 games in his third season. Kirk Muller’s consistent improvement, solid play and strong leadership traits led him to be named captain of the New Jersey Devils prior to the 1987/88 season, his 4th in the NHL. He’d responded to this honour by recording a career high of 37 goals and 94 points in 80 games, leading the New Jersey Devils to the franchise’s first winning record and to the playoffs for the first time as the ‘New Jersey Devils’. The Devils would make a statement in the playoffs, defeating the New York Islanders in 6 games and the Washington Capitals in 7 games before facing the Boston Bruins in the semi-finals. After a hard fought series, Muller and the Devils lost to the Bruins in 7 games. Throughout his tenure with the New Jersey Devils, Kirk Muller was an extremely resilient player for the Devils, missing only 4 games in his 7 seasons in New Jersey.

Kirk Muller Montreal

After serving as captain for 4 years, the Devils would trade Kirk Muller to the Montreal Canadiens with Roland Melanson for Stephane Richer and Tom Chorske in September of 1991. Kirk Muller immediately became a fan favorite in Montreal. In his 2nd season with the Habs, he’d be named an assistant captain, as well as match his career high of 94 points in 80 games. Muller would then go on to help lead the Canadiens through a surprise run in the 1993 playoffs, defeating their provincial rival Quebec Nordiques in 6 games, sweeping the Buffalo Sabres in 4 games and eliminating the New York Islanders in 5 games before facing the Wayne Gretzky led Los Angeles Kings in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. After losing game 1, Muller and the Canadiens would win the next 3 games in overtime, before ultimately winning game 5, 4-1, giving Kirk Muller his only Stanley Cup ring of his playing career. Named the Canadiens’ captain for the lockout shortened 1994/95 season, Kirk Muller would be traded to the New York Islanders partway through the season along with Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby in the deal that landed Pierre Turgeon in Montreal. After an uneventful 27 game stint on Long Island, Muller would be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs partway through the 1995/96 season. After spending the 1996/97 season in Toronto, during which he scored 20 goals, Kirk was on the move again, this time down south, joining the Florida Panthers. Muller would spend two and a half seasons in Florida, serving as the Panthers assistant captain in 1997/98 before becoming a free agent at the conclusion of the 1999 season. After sitting out the first part of the 1999/00 season pondering his future, Kirk Muller would sign with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Dallas Stars. Muller would help the Stars go on another deep playoff run, defeating the Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks and the Colorado Avalanche before facing Muller’s former team, the New Jersey Devils in the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals. Fate was not in Muller’s favour as it had been in 1993, and the stars ended up losing in game 6, double overtime to the Devils. Although Muller did not put up the same offensive numbers as he had earlier in his career with the Stars, Muller was a success in Dallas due to his transformed game, emerging as a solid defensive specialist.

Muller would retire from playing after the 2003 playoffs but would not stay out of hockey long. Shortly after retiring as a player, Muller turned to the next closest thing, coaching. Kirk Muller would return home to Kingston to coach the Queen’s University Golden Gaels for the 2005/06 season. During this season, Muller would do extensive work with Hockey Canada, serving as an assistant coach to Marc Habscheld, winning the 2005 Lotto Cup tournament in Slovakia. Kirk Muller would also serve as an assistant coach to Greg Gilbert at the 2006 Under-18 World Championship. In the summer of 2006, Kirk Muller would return to the Montreal Canadiens organization, becoming an assistant coach to former teammate Guy Carbonneau. Throughout his coaching tenure in Montreal, Muller would also serve as an assistant to Bob Gainey, Jacques Martin and Randy Cunneyworth. In the summer of 2011, Muller would leave the Canadiens organization for the head coaching job of the Milwaukee Admirals, the Nashville Predators AHL affiliate. After leading Milwaukee to a strong start to the 2011/12 season, the Carolina Hurricanes would hire Kirk Muller to take over for Paul Maurice as their head coach. Despite posting a winning record in 2 of his 3 seasons in Carolina, it wasn’t enough to get the Hurricanes into the playoffs, and Muller was relieved of his duties in the 2014 off-season. Muller wouldn’t be out of work for long, as just 8 days after parting ways with Carolina, Kirk Muller would join his former coach in Dallas, Ken Hitchcock, as an assistant coach of a strong St. Louis Blues team. After an early exit in the 2015 NHL Playoffs, the Blues have rebounded and are making noise in the 2016 playoffs, including eliminating the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, in the first round. The Blues would ultimately fall short of their Stanley Cup aspirations, losing in the semi-finals to the San Jose Sharks. Shortly after the Blues’ playoff run, Kirk announced his return to the Montreal Canadiens for the 2016/17 season as an associate coach under Michel Therrien. Kirk and his wife Stacey, have 4 daughters, twins Brittney and Kourtney and younger daughters Bryelle and Kira.

Written By: Chris Cunneen