Within a span of 90 minutes, the shape of the Southeast Division changed dramatically. In an already crazy season – the Panthers find themselves in first place for what seems like the first time in a decade – the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes both fired their head coaches Monday morning.
In Washington, Bruce Boudreau was fired after one of the best starts to an NHL coaching career in league history. Boudreau was the quickest coach to get his 200th win, and had taken his Capitals to the playoffs as Southeast Division winners in each of his first four seasons. The fans, as well as management, was not happy with his team’s lack of playoff success. To add insult to injury, Boudreau sat struggling captain Alex Ovechkin in the final minutes of the team’s last game, a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. His replacement is former Capitals captain Dale Hunter.
The Capitals will play three home games before a road trip to Florida on Monday. More on that to come next week.
Just 90 minutes later, word came in from Carolina that longtime coach Paul Maurice would be relieved of his duties for a second time. This news came after the Hurricanes lost their ninth game of the month and 17th of the season Sunday. General Manager Jim Rutherford is good friends with Maurice, and didn’t want to make the move. He admitted that something had to be done.
“When things aren’t going well,” Rutherford said to the Miami Herald, “bad things happen. The cloud is hovering over you. The players who haven’t played well or those who don’t think they got the opportunity they thought they did have a chance to start with a new coach. It’s a clean slate. Don’t look at the stats and say ‘I have a minus-10,’ or ‘I only have one goal.’ It’s all new now. This is what we do under the new coach.
“We don’t want to give up on this season. We want to make a run at the playoffs. That’s still our goal. There’s still lots of time.”
Maurice, who began his coaching career with the Hartford Whalers in 1995 at the ripe old age of 28. In 1997, he moved with the team to Greensboro, and later Raleigh, North Carolina. He helped turned his team from cellar dwellers to Stanley Cup contenders, as they lost to Detroit in the 2002 Cup Finals. After an 8-12-8-2 start to the 2002-03 season, Maurice was fired for the first time in his career.
After a few years working his way through the Toronto Maple Leafs system, Maurice was re-hired by the Hurricanes in 2008, taking his team to the conference finals. After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, and a second eight win start, Maurice was fired once again.
His replacement is 19-year NHL veteran Kirk Muller. Muller began the season as coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators. He was also previously an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Panthers head up to Carolina tonight, and for coach Kevin Dineen, it’s a homecoming of sorts.
Dineen played for the Whalers, and moved with the team to Carolina along with Maurice. He also is a former teammate of Muller.
“I had an opportunity to play for Maurice for a few years,” Dineen said. “Anytime you heard news like this, it’s always disappointing.
“[Muller] and I have been past teammates. He’s done a good job in in Montreal. We’ve had lots of conversations this summer about his future and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Muller also has a connection to the Panthers, playing for the team from 1996-99. He was on the last team to win a playoff game, in the 1996-97 season.
Dineen is now the second longest-tenured coach in the Southeast Division, bhind Tampa Bay’s Guy Boucher.
CLEMMENSEN’S BACK IN THE SADDLE:
Goalie Scott Clemmensen had an extra pep in his step yesterday. After having knee surgery in September, Clemmensen returned to shut out the Dallas Stars two weeks ago. Immediately after his return, the veteran found himself sidelined again, this time with a groin injury.
“I’m feeling good. For the first time in a long time,” Clemmensen said with a beaming grin. “I feel good about feeling good.”
It was the first time Clemmensen had practiced since coming off the injury. Dineen said he would be used on this road trip, but he did not know when.
“I feel 100%. I want to get going,” Clemmensen said. “The season’s already a quater of the way done.”
Last season, forward Mark Cullen was excited about his prospects at making the Panthers roster. That was until the first day of training camp, when he ruptured his Achilles Tendon tendon. Barring a waiver claim, Cullen could make his first appearance with the club tonight in Carolina after spending parts of the past two seasons recovering in the AHL.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this league,” Cullen said. “Last year was a nightmare of a year, right from the start. It’s a fresh start this season so I’m hoping to make the most of it.”
“I liked [Cullen's] training camp,” Dineen said. ”He hasn’t had a great run in San Antonio. I like the idea of a guy who has a lot of experience. IF needed, he will be a solid addition to our lineup.”
Forward Mikael Samuelsson skated wearing a no-contact jersey today. Should he not be available, Cullen will start in his place tonight.
- Forwards Matt Bradley and Marcel Goc will not make the road trip.
- Forward Mikael Repik and goalie Jacob Markstrom were sent to San Antonio Monday
- Forward Tomas Kopecky was given a “maintenance day” but will make the trip and is expected to start today after having back spasms last week.