It seems like the Carolina Hurricanes’ drastic organizational overhaul has been beaten to death on local and national media outlets, but that’s because it’s true. Pound for pound, the ‘Canes have seen more turnover in the last calendar year, both in the front office and on the ice, than any other NHL team not named the Ottawa Senators.
This amount of turnover is far from surprising given the fact that we are nearing a full decade since the Hurricanes last played playoff hockey. There is an intentional change in direction, something that the team desperately needed. The team lost six regulars and brought in seven new faces, including draft picks, Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. While all the fresh faces are exciting on the surface, an underlying issue presents itself: How will the ‘Canes players build team chemistry?
Establishing a ‘Canes Culture
Culture is an idea that often makes hockey fans groan. Not because it is insignificant, but because it is often cited by struggling organizations as the reason someone is traded or brought in. Culture, however, is vital for the health and success of a franchise, for better or worse.
Hurricanes play-by-play broadcaster John Forslund recently discussed this on the CanesCast with Mike Maniscalco and Michael Smith. Naturally, for a team that has missed the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, culture and morale has been deteriorating.
This is what management wanted to tackle when they established the new regime of Tom Dundon, Don Waddell, Rod Brind’Amour, and Dean Chynoweth, among other changes in the front office. The team, in essence, appears to be turning over a new leaf this season.
On top of this, as my The Hockey Writers colleague, Mark Shiver, recently reported, Hurricanes veteran Justin Williams has been named team captain with Jordan Staal and Justin Faulk, the previous co-captains serving as alternates. These are the right men for the job and Williams, in particular, is the kind of player and person you want leading a group of young players out of the doldrums.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour captained the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning squad that saw Williams score the Game 7 empty-netter to essentially clinch the championship. Their good rapport will help Brind’Amour relay his coach’s message to Williams so that it can permeate the squad on a deeper level.
With Brind’Amour at the helm, an exceptional leadership group, and management committed to building a championship-contending team, the foundation has been laid to establish a team that plays like a team.
Brind’Amour & Team Mentality
A change in culture and leadership is all well and good, but what about the minutiae of building a team that clicks both on and off the ice? I think Brind’Amour is looking to build team camaraderie through work ethic and in training, which is not surprising given his tenure as a player. It was also evident at training camp this week, as he was intent on pushing a quicker pace and minimizing breaks.
It was clear from the get-go that this is how Brind’Amour would want to run his squad. Back in May when he was officially named head coach, he was very clear that this team had some serious work to do, saying that “We have a lot of guys in that room that need to give more…We’re going to demand more from our players.” He was a player that never settled for half measures or second-best, and he was a player that had an innate drive to win and conquer. His coaching tenure appears to be about those same ideals, and just as his leadership helped create a strong team bond and, ultimately, a winning culture back in 2006, Brind’Amour aims to repeat such success.
Additionally, PNC Arena has undergone renovations to the seating, for a better fan experience, and to the locker room and training facilities. Head strength and conditioning coach Bill Burniston alluded to the changes on the CanesCast a little while back, saying that their goal was to encourage players to spend more time at the arena training as opposed to elsewhere and to create a more homey environment for players to put their work in.
So far, it appears that many of the players have bought into Brind’Amour’s message and trust him to lead the team. The idea of building chemistry through the grind may be exactly what a team as young as the ‘Canes needs to rewrite the script.