Rookie camp is
underway under there in Nashville, and Admirals head coach Kirk Muller is right there in the middle of it. Before he left for Nashville, he talked to The Roundtable, and here’s part II of our Summer Sit-Down with Kirk Muller.
AR: Let’s talk about special teams. I understand that the power play will be one of your responsibilities this season. If a power play unit is successful, is it equal parts skill and system? The reason I ask, while Milwaukee’s power play has had decent numbers over the last few years, the Predators haven’t, and anything that you can bring to the table with the power play would be a nice boost for the organization.
KM: It goes hand in hand, the personnel of having guys in the right setups and situations. You need a variety of guys…net presence, play-making guys. Every power play that’s successful usually has some good shooters, establish the shot, and from there you can set up plays. We’ve been really lucky the last five years in Montreal, we’ve been one of the top power plays each year, but we’ve been able to have a really good shooting defenseman each year, and I think that’s a big factor. I’m certainly happy to throw any input in down there if they’re looking at some stuff, but it’s a good coaching staff down there. But it does go hand in hand. it’s about running plays consistently and being on the same page, but having the personnel to finish it off at the end of the day.
AR: The offensive success you had in your playing career is a credential that not many previous Admiral coaches have had. The sum total of NHL regular season goals scored by our last four head coaches is 61, with 58 coming just from Lane Lambert. In general, what are some things that you will be able to work on with our offensive minded players like Taylor Beck and Craig Smith (if he’s here) to help them improve their games?
KM: I was a center, I was a winger….the thing about my career, I’ve been a first line, second line, I’ve been a checking guy. So I think I can understand and relate to the guys…natural goal scorers or to the guys that are going to earn the goals by being gritty and being around the net. At this level, a lot of it is about bringing out the strengths in each player, and explaining to them, ‘This is how you’re going to succeed. You’re going to be a power forward, you’re going to be a finesse guy. You’re a playmaker.’ And challenge them on to their skills and identify them so that they know. The key is they have an identity of who they are and how they can make the NHL if that’s their goal. To say, ‘Listen, you know what, these are the things you need to work on. These are the players that you play similar to. Watch these guys.’ I think it’s just a lot of working with individuals after practice, working on their strengths, and working on their weaknesses. It’s a day-to-day process of making them better players.
AR: A psychological part of the game that you’ll probably have to deal with is how to motivate a player that just got sent down from the big club. There have been some mopers here over the last few years. I imagine they are all addressed on a case-by-case basis, based on the relationship between the player and the coach….but generally speaking, what do you think will be the best way to deal with mopers to get them back on their game?
KM: It’s natural, it’s human nature, you’re disappointed. I’m sure guys all the time come down feeling like they didn’t deserve it, or they didn’t get a fair shot, or they played well…whatever the circumstances, at the end of the day, the key is to get them right back on the horse and get them out there playing. But, it’s really making them understand that what they can only do is take care of what they can control. Sometimes it’s not fair, especially today in hockey with the salary caps and money being a factor….guys on two-way contracts, and one-way, all these scenarios…All they can do is just make sure they prepare that when they do get the call, they are ready to go. They get better each day, and they understand that what they have in control of is to be a better player every day. Work hard, play for each other, so that they stay mentally focused, so that when they get that crack again, they’ll be ready to go.
AR: What are some players that caught your eyes in good or bad ways at development camp?
KM: Well of course Ellis is a special player. He’s skilled, he sees the games really well, he’s going to be fun to coach if he sticks around down here. I was really impressed with (Craig) Smith. He’s a good strong skater, he’s on the puck, he’s energized, he’s going to be a fun player to really watch. You got young guys like Latta who look like gritty little players that have played some hard games in the OHL. It’ll be interesting to challenge guys like him to get their roles. Beck will be a guy that if we can get him playing consistently and get to be like a power forward and challenge him every day like that to be consistently a good solid player, it’ll be fun. It’s going to be fun to coach.
AR: You’re living in Milwaukee now….are you a beer drinker?
KM: (Laughs)I am….I’m a wine drinker, but it’s pretty hard to play 19 years in the NHL and not be a beer drinker. I’m sure I’ll have to try and see the best parts of Milwaukee.
AR: And with football season starting now, I need to ask, are you going to become a Packer fan?
KM: I better say I am? (Laughs) It’s funny though, TV is so different now with sports, and everything is available. Growing up in Ontario, we only had access to the Jets, the Giants, the Bills, and the Steelers. They were the four teams, so I became a Steelers fan really because in the 70’s they were so dominant…but we only really caught four teams. But truthfully, Green Bay is one of my favorites as well, and it’s very easy to cheer for them.