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Muller, Shaw leave major vacancies on Blues' coaching staff

St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will have a mostly new staff when he starts his final NHL season next year.

Multiple reports say that assistant coach Kirk Muller will leave the franchise. Muller has been an assistant with the Blues since the 2014-15 season and was known as one of the more established assistants in the NHL.

Before then he was the head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes for three seasons and an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens for five seasons.

Both Muller and longtime St. Louis assistant Brad Shaw were reportedly offered one-year contracts by general manager Doug Armstrong. Shaw balked at the idea of being on a short leash and decided to pursue other options. It appears Muller will follow the same path.

One week ago the Blues were ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final by the San Jose Sharks. This was the furthest the Blues had advanced in the playoffs since the 2000-01 season.

“It’s difficult,” Armstrong said when it was announced Hitchcock would return. “Brad has been here before I got here, and I think he’s a great coach. But I also understand his situation. It’s difficult in this industry to work on one-year deals. We tried and do a couple of things to put a safety-net in there for a few months after the season but ... Ken is the head coach and he’s on a one-year contract.”

There was a thought that Muller could be the team’s head coach in waiting with the 64-year-old Hitchcock saying the 2016-17 season would be his last.

Wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 

The Blue believe they may have a strong in-house candidate in Kirk Muller, who has been an assistant on Hitchcock's the past two seasons. Prior to coming to St. Louis, he was an assistant coach in Montreal for five seasons and the head coach in Carolina for three years.

But things have yet to fall in place with Muller, who as of Tuesday had yet to accept the Blues' one-year contract offer to remain Hitchcock's staff. He is said to looking for longer term and exploring his options, according to sources. 

Could the best option for the Blues and Muller be to name him the 'coach in waiting?' Would that be the incentive that would keep him in the organization? It doesn't seem like that was part of the initial conversation with Muller, but it sounds like Armstrong would be willing to discuss it.

According to the Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford, Shaw led the team’s penalty kill while Muller ran the power play. St. Louis ranked sixth in the league in power play at 21.5 percent and third on the penalty kill at 85.1 percent. 

Rutherford also pointed out former Minnesota Wild assistant Darryl Sydor could be in the mix as an assistant for next year. 

According to players, Muller and Shaw were helpful in relaying Hitchcock’s multiple lineup changes in an easy-to-understand and tactful manner.

“Part of it’s (Hitchcock), part of it’s assistant coaches too and they communicate with the players pretty well,” forward Kyle Brodziak said during the Western Conference Final. “If a new line is made up they talk to the line and kind of tell them what the expectations of the line are and how they see them having success. They’ve done a good job of communicating with everyone all year.”

The coaching uncertainty starts a summer of changes and decisions for the Blues. Captain David Backes is a pending unrestricted free agent as is forward Troy Brouwer.

Forward Vladimir Tarasenko also recently answered questions on why he was held to just two goals in the Western Conference Final and whether he and the Blues had soured on one another.

For a team that made it to the NHL’s final four, St. Louis suddenly has an awful lot of questions moving forward. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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