Image: USA Today Sports
For fans who are every bit as interested in following the decisions that form their favourite team’s roster as they are the team itself, August is somewhat of a dry spell annually. There’s just not an awful lot of movement leaguewide.
I consider myself one such fan, which is why I always consider September to be when hockey is back on. That’s when the professional try-outs are handed out, and familiar faces find new places in the constant shuffle of the NHL machine. Usually it’s fringe NHL’ers or players trying to save themselves from falling victim to that distinction, but every now and again someone who doesn’t fit either mould slips through the cracks.
According to a report by Elliotte Friedman, Peter Mueller is that player for this season. The former eighth overall pick and NHL journeyman is looking to make an NHL comeback after a tour in Sweden and sounds serious about it, too. Which, naturally, raises the question of whether the Canucks should have any interest.
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) September 1, 2016
Before we delve into Mueller’s profile and whether there’s a fit, let’s look at Friedman’s report, which was expertly disseminated by the indispensable Chris Nichols of Today’s SlapShot.
“One other guy I got an interesting note about is Peter Mueller… He’s a guy that had some injuries. He went overseas. He had some decent success in Europe. And he wants to come back. He wants to make an NHL return. He’s been kicking around maybe some PTOs here and there. But I heard the other thing is that he has told teams, ‘Hey, if I have to go to the American Hockey League first to show you that I’m serious, I will go.’ Because I think he’s a guy who would really like to take another stab at the NHL, so I’m curious to see if he’s going to end up somewhere too.”
Like I said, Mueller seems pretty serious about breaking into the NHL again. And why not? In his first NHL stint, Mueller played in 297 games and chipped in 160 points. That production likely understates Mueller’s ability too, as concussions played a significant part in paving the way for his early exit from an otherwise promising NHL career.
Mueller last played for the Florida Panthers in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, scoring 17 points in 43 games. Before that, Mueller had played for the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche with varying degrees of success.
Before concussions derailed his career, Mueller was an above average middle six point producer. He had a career high of 54 points in 81 games in his rookie season but maintained a rate of production closer to 35 points per 82 games after that. Mueller eventually developed into an impactful player at controlling the run of play at even strength too, posting Corsi For% in the black in all of his last three NHL seasons.
Since leaving the NHL in advance of the 2013-14 season, Mueller’s played in Europe, both in Switzerland in Sweden. In the Suisse men’s league, the NLA, Mueller suited up for the Kloten Flyers in consecutive seasons, scoring 63 points in 83 games. Last season Mueller played for the Malmo Redhawks in the SHL, scoring 25 points in 43 games.
Whether Mueller still has it in him to be a productive middle six forward at the NHL level remains to be seen. He’s 28 years old now and likely exiting the prime of his career, though there’s likely plenty of good hockey left in him — health allowing, of course. Producing at a half-point per game in the SHL is a good sign to be sure, but for comparison’s sake, Rodin was well above a point per game last season, and we’re hardly certain of his status as an NHL player.
Unlike Rodin, though, the Canucks can take a glimpse at Mueller without committing beyond training camp. And if Friedman’s report is true, I can’t imagine Mueller would be unwilling to take the Canucks (or any team) up on that offer.
We often talk about prospects who grade out as having a single-digit percentage rate of success as worth a roll of the dice. Those players often come with the added cost of a draft pick or salaried player contract. The Canucks can get a glimpse of Mueller without surrendering anything in the way of real assets, unless, of course, Mueller shows himself to be some semblance of the player that he was in his first NHL stint. At that point, you sign him and run with it.
Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out, and all the Canucks have done is added a player to their pre-season rosters and brought themselves closer to the eight veteran minimum. That saves another member of the Canucks veteran group from injury in mean-nothing games. Or hell, they have to sign Mueller to an AHL contract. Whatever the case, they don’t come out of this any worse for wear.
Then again, they could just as well not sign Mueller and be no worse off. That’s the thing about a bet like this. It’s more likely than not Mueller’s not going to regain his peak form at the NHL level. Even if he can make a comeback, it’s probably as a third line player. Those are a dime a dozen and don’t particularly move the needle.
Mueller’s just another in a long list of players the Canucks could choose to gamble on. The only difference is there’s a slightly better chance Mueller can be impactful than most other players in his situation. And for a team that’s right on the fringe of competing for a playoff spot, finding that kind of marginal upside whereever possible has value.