Saturday, January 19, 2019

Kirk Muller Autographed Card

A cool nickname, "Captain Kirk". The second-overall pick of the 1984 draft. Captain of the New Jersey Devils and Montréal Canadiens. Stanley Cup winner. All-Star. Had he had his say, that's the way the story would have ended for Kirk Muller, a path that may have led him to the Hal of Fame.

Instead, after assurances from GM Serge Savard that he would not get traded - and that if he were to be, that it be to a contending team - he was sent to the New York Islanders on April 5th, 1995, along with Mathieu Schneider and Craig Darby.

What had changed? Isles GM Don Maloney felt his team needed to add grit and a hard work ethic to his team, and made captain Pierre Turgeon - a French Canadian star - available, for one; also, the Habs needed to get rid of Schneider after a fistfight with star goalie Patrick Roy in Philadelphia in a personal matters issue that was never going to be resolved. Schenider's value didn't match Turgeon's, so the Habs added their own captain and a prospect to the deal, and the Isles added Vladimir Malakhov, an extremely talented but enigmatic (and perhaps lazy) defenseman, on their end.

But Muller wanted nothing to do with the Islanders. So much so that he didn't report to the team. At first, Maloney offered him to take some "personal time" to get his "affairs in order", but when it looked like he was never going to report to the team, Maloney had to promise to try to trade him over the summer, after which Muller suited up for the team's last 12 games of the season.

Then the team introduced its "Fishstick Fisherman" jersey, and half the team wanted out. I don't know what it took to get Muller to smile here, but I bet it had something to do with the photographer telling him he was probably never going to have to wear it on the ice:
That's card #115 from Topps' 1995-96 Topps set, which he signed in blue sharpie in his first stint as a Canadiens assistant coach.

When the 1995-96 season came along, Muller's trade value had plummeted, with every GM in the league knowing full well he wanted out and trying to short-change the Islanders in a deal. Muller flat-out stopped trying and was sent home in early November to await a trade, with his full salary. Due to his inability to deal with the issue, Maloney was fired on December 2nd, replaced by "Mad" Mike Milbury, who sent him to the Toronto Maple Leafs in January, with veteran goalie Don Beaupre, in a three-team swap that netted the Isles Martin Straka, Bryan Berard and Ken Belanger.

He had a bit of a resurgence with the Leafs, posting 25 points (9 goals, 16 assists) in 36 games, but the following season it became clear he had lost a step and could no longer contribute as a second-liner. He would play two and a half years with the Florida Panthers (to little fanfare) before joining fellow former Habs leaders Guy Carbonneau, Craig Ludwig, Mike McPhee, Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland with the Dallas Stars, where he spent his final four seasons.

And how do Isles fans feel about his short time on Long Island? Here's an interesting take:
We've heard about French Canadian players avoiding signing with the Habs because of the pressure their fans will put on them. Take my word for it, that's a good problem to have. It means the players understand exactly what will be expected of them and, if they're not up to the challenge, you probably wouldn't want them anyway.
Players avoiding the Islanders is a horse of a different colo(u)r, though. They're usually borne from not understanding, or wanting to understand, what the hell's even going on over there on Long Island. This is a much larger problem to have. And until it's fixed for good, every big-time player could potentially fill Kirk Muller's old unwanted jersey.
Which was number 9. Which was Clark Gillies' number. Who is still a god on Long Island. Which is yet another reason to hate the piece of shit prick Muller.
It's the complete opposite in Montréal, where Muller is one of two non-French-speaking coaches (with McGill University alumnus Mike Babcock) fans would accept as head coach of the storied Canadiens - and that's saying a lot.

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