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HNIC Hotstove suggests Mueller on the outs; Ireland fired from Rampage

Saturday night, CBC's Hockey Night in Canada dropped a bombshell of a rumor: Phoenix Coyotes forward Peter Mueller, the club's top draft pick in 2006 (8th overall), could end up on the trading block.

The situation was discussed briefly at the end of HNIC's "Hotstove" segment during Saturday night's broadcast. Hockey analyst Pierre LeBrun mentioned that he "[didn't] think Phoenix wants to dump [Mueller] but that he might not be getting along with [coach] Dave Tippett."

The 21-year-old Mueller, a native of Bloomington, MN, is in his third season with the Coyotes. He is 1-3-4 and -3 after 21 games going into tonight's tilt against the Edmonton Oilers.

Mueller was slated to take on top line duties with Coyotes captain Shane Doan this year, but under Tippett's regime he has seen his icetime - and his stats - dip significantly.

The highly-touted Mueller made a big splash during his rookie season, notching 22 goals and 32 assists for 54 points. His sophomore season, however, saw the youngster struggle through a season-long slump, finishing with 13-23-36.

While it is natural for young players to slump in their sophomore years thanks to a season's worth of scouting by other teams, it was suggested in some quarters that Mueller's attempt to gain weight and muscle between seasons may have detrimentally affected his play. During the most recent offseason, Mueller was known to be working to build leaner muscle and increase his aerobic conditioning to build back his stamina. The results seemed to be clearly in Mueller's favor, with the young forward looking speedier and more agile than during his second-year campaign.

However, with two months of the 2009-2010 season now in the books, Mueller has seen his role significantly reduced. It may be that Tippett, who rewards good play with increased ice time, is not pleased with Mueller's defensive play. Although Mueller has worked on his defensive game he does not follow up on his checks with the intensity of others on the team and has a tendency to float on occasion. More problematic is the intangible of "hustling," and Mueller, whose personality is very low-key, has been criticized - rightly or wrongly - for his lack of "hustle" on the ice.

What cannot be debated is Mueller's shot percentage, which has plummeted from around 10% in his first two years to a paltry 2.9% thus far this season. Even on a team which is geared towards defensive hockey, this stat speaks volumes for a player who is ostensibly one of the team's top snipers.

Mueller is not the first young forward to be in Tippett's doghouse - Danish forward Mikkel Boedker, who started the season with the Coyotes, played an average of 4 minutes per game before being sent down to AHL San Antonio during October.

One of the criticisms of Tippett's coaching preferences has been that he may lack patience with younger prospect players. Clearly, it is too soon and too small of a sample size to make a judgment on whether that criticism is accurate. But if Tippett is losing patience with Mueller to the point that a trade has become a considerable option, the scrutiny should increase greatly on the head coach's methods.

Phoenix as a franchise learned a hard lesson about the virtues of patience with young players after their trade of Danny Briere for Chris Gratton, and though Briere's breakout has been helped greatly by the rules changes following the lockout season the trade still stands as one of the franchise's biggest gaffes.

All that being said, however, it is very premature for trade talk to start swirling around Peter Mueller. For a player who is only in his third NHL season and who is trying to learn a new coach and system, the idea that he is trade bait at this juncture makes little sense no matter how pundits and analysts might wish otherwise.

Could Mueller become a movable piece at the deadline? Perhaps, depending on the Coyotes' position in the standings and depth needs. Clearly, the Coyotes have a surfeit of depth in San Antonio should Mueller be moved for a needed asset. But the suggestion by the CBC's pundits that Mueller is on the block now at the quarter-pole of the season seems premature at best and predatory and opportunistic at worst.

Ireland fired from Rampage after 10-game losing skid

Assistant coach Ray Edwards will be taking the helm of the San Antonio Rampage after coach Greg Ireland was fired Monday.

The Rampage are in the middle of a nasty slump after breaking out of the gates with one of the best records in the American Hockey League. The team's defense has been struggling after Shaun Heshka and David Schlemko were recalled to the Coyotes as injury substitutes.

Coyotes' GM Don Maloney's New York connections continue to make their presence felt, as Mike Pelino, an assistant coach with the Rangers from 2004-2009, will step in to assist coach Edwards.

In other Rampage news, the Anaheim Ducks terminated their relationship with the team this week, leaving the Coyotes as the sole NHL affiliate with the team. The Ducks and Coyotes had "shared" the Rampage roster for the past two months.