One of three signings made on July 1 made by the Toronto Maple Leafs in an effort to bolster the Toronto Marlies, Chris Mueller is probably a name most Leafs fans are not familiar with. A perennial American Hockey League scorer who has never quite stuck in the NHL, Mueller will be a big help to the Marlies while providing organizational depth at centre.
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Chris Mueller
Undrafted out of Michigan State, Chris Mueller has worked hard since 2008 to become a regular in the AHL. Over 10 years as a professional, Mueller has appeared in eight games in the East Coast Hockey League and 578 in the AHL. He played NHL games with the Nashville Predators, Dallas Stars, and New York Rangers, totaling 53 games.
Though Mueller has scored plenty of points in the minors, he has never played a lengthy stint in the NHL. The most games he has played in an NHL season is 18, back in 2012-13 with the Predators. Over his scattered NHL career, Mueller has scored just 10 points.
Chris Mueller is what is commonly referred to as an “AAAA” player. He puts up major point totals in the minors but can never push his way through into the NHL. Mueller has embraced this role in recent years, signing short term deals to help AHL teams top six scoring and providing leadership. He has served as an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, as well as with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2012-13.
Recently, Mueller has excelled in this role. In 2015-16, with the San Diego Gulls, he scored 57 points in 63 games, the most productive year of his career to that point. He followed up the career year with another, registering a whopping 67 points in 68 games with the Tucson Roadrunners to finish third in AHL scoring in 2016-17.
Mueller’s teams have been successful as well. He has made the Calder Cup Playoffs in seven of his nine full years as a professional, only missing in 2009 with Lake Erie and 2017 with Tucson.
Profile (via EliteProspects)
Weight: 209 lbs
NHL Draft: Undrafted, Signed on December 27, 2010, by Nashville
Contract (via CapFriendly)
An often overlooked aspect of an NHL roster is the AHL veterans required to field a successful AHL team. The Marlies have found out that finding the perfect mix of prospects and veterans is quite difficult. Toronto’s management made an effort to go out and acquire top level veterans to help the younger prospects develop, as well as help the team in pursuit of an elusive Calder Cup.
As such, the Leafs had to give Mueller a “rich” contract. Some teams can’t afford to spend real dollars on AHL players. Instead, they fill out their rosters with players on two-way contracts making anywhere from $70,000 to $200,000. The Leafs do not have to worry about money and were able to outbid any other potential suitors by giving Mueller a two-year, $1.3 million contract.
In year one, Mueller will make $400,000 in the minors, a sizeable sum for a two-way contract. In year two, Mueller’s contract becomes one-way, giving him $650,000 regardless of the level he plays at. For comparison, his previous contract with the Arizona Coyotes paid him $275,000 in the minors. He will receive a big pay increase over the next two years, even if he doesn’t make an appearance in the NHL.
It would take a miracle for Chris Mueller to start the season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. His signing was strictly for the Marlies, as proved by his career totals and his contract layout. That isn’t to say he won’t be a vital member of the organization. Mueller will have plenty of influence on the success of the Marlies and help in the development of multiple prospects.
After back-to-back near point-per-game campaigns with the Gulls and Roadrunners, Mueller will be expected to produce with the high caliber wingers the Marlies boast. Mueller will be penciled into the top line centre position. This should allow the likes of Adam Brooks, Colin Greening, and Frederik Gauthier to play lower in the lineup.
Chris Mueller could play with a multitude of players. The Marlies lineup is full of question marks at the moment and could turn out a number of ways. Injuries, preseason games, and training camp play will all affect who will start in the Marlies top six.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images