It’s not yet clear what kind of impact the Carolina Hurricanes’ coaching change might have on the Checkers, but it won’t be as dramatic as some might have expected.
When Charlotte’s NHL affiliate turned to rookie head coach Kirk Muller to help lead their team for the rest of this season and beyond, it meant that the Checkers’ Jeff Daniels, a former Canes assistant who was a candidate for the head job, would be staying put for the time being.
Thought he would have appreciated a promotion as much as anyone else, Daniels said it will be business as usual from now on.
“It is what it is, and it doesn’t change my job down here,” said Daniels, now in his third season as a head coach at the AHL level. “I’m trying to grow as a coach down here, and hopefully my time will come.”
Hurricanes management had the unusual opportunity to watch two of its top candidates to replace outgoing coach Paul Maurice, if not the
top two candidates, coach against one another last weekend. Though Daniels’ squad won both games over the Milwaukee Admirals at Time Warner Cable Arena, it was Muller who got the nod, with Carolina General Manager Jim Rutherford delivering the news in what Daniels called a “casual” conversation following Sunday’s game.
The match-up between the two coaches was also unique in that it provided some immediate insight into potential changes in the organizational coaching philosophy. Daniels noted that he and Muller employed different styles of play in their three meetings this season, which could be significant as AHL clubs typically employ similar structures as their parent clubs so that prospects develop in a manner that will best prepare them to make the transition to the next level.
Until he hears otherwise, Daniels, whose team is a on a four-game winning streak and leads the Midwest Division by six points, will stay the current course.
“I’m not sure at this point what’s going to change up top,” he said, adding that he had not had a chance to speak to Muller as of Tuesday morning. “For now, we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
In speaking to the media in Raleigh, Muller has not yet divulged anything specific that he might change, and with his Admirals doing their best to match up with their parent club in Nashville, it’s unclear how much of their identity was Muller’s and how much direction he received from above. Daniels, having coached against both teams, had been making comparisons between Milwaukee and Nashville all week, with the Admirals’ status as the AHL’s third-best defensive team and second-least penalized team seeming to back that up. Those rankings precisely match how the NHL’s Predators finished last season.
However, certain things clearly come down to the coach, which is part of why Daniels was complimentary of Muller even before the change was made.
“One thing to take away is that they were disciplined and worked hard,” said Daniels. “The perfect example is on Sunday when they were down 3-0 after the first period and could have packed it in, but they kept coming at us to try and make something happen.”
Another thing to keep an eye on will be how the Hurricanes make use of players recalled from Charlotte, with forwards having typically seen most of their time on the NHL team’s fourth line with a few brief exceptions. Having just coached against the likes of Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe, Muller likely has a better grasp on his new prospects than most NHL coaches do on their first day with a new organization.
Whether Muller had input or not, at least for the time being, the road for those players may have gotten slightly tougher with the Hurricanes’ Tuesday waiver acquisition of Andreas Nodl from the Philadelphia Flyers. Nodl, a 24-year-old winger, is likely to fill a bottom-six forward role that has been reserved for AHL recalls such as Brett Sutter, who has been with the team in that capacity since Nov. 21, for most of this season.
Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who has missed each of the Checkers’ last five games with a lower-body injury, did not practice with the team on Tuesday. Although not playing, he had still been practicing with the team regularly and was thought to be close to a return, a notion that his coach debunked on Tuesday.
“He’ll be out for a while,” said Daniels.
Daniels added that Cedric McNicoll, who last played on Oct. 28, is still a further week away from returning to action. The center returned to practice last week and too part in the first portion of the team’s skate on Tuesday.