Hurricanes’ Peters: “That’s Reality, Right?”

Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters is winding down his fourth season with the ‘Canes. It is starting to look like it may well be his last. With a new general manager yet to be hired, and another season on the verge of ending without the Hurricanes making the playoffs, Peters will likely be told that his services are no longer needed during the offseason.

Unless owner Tom Dundon blames Peters’ inability to guide the team to the playoffs on the hands that were dealt him by the former general manager Ron Francis, Peters will get his share of the blame. Look for the phrase, “We want to make a fresh start,” or “Coach Peters has done a good job, but we feel another voice is needed to lead the players to the next level.” It will likely just boil down to the inevitable change that occurs under new management. The new general manager will want to pick his coach, plain and simple.

Four Years Ago and a Bright Future

When he arrived it was also the beginning of the tenure of NHL Hall of Fame member Ron Francis as the team’s executive VP and general manager. It was the end of the Jim Rutherford era, as well as the Kirk Muller era. As general manager, Rutherford had taken the team to the playoffs and a victory in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.

Kirk Muller
Former Carolina Hurricanes head coach, Kirk Muller (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

Muller had an abysmal run from 2011 to 2014, and was actually fired by Francis in one of his first acts as the Hurricanes’ new general manager. At that time, the Toronto Star reported Francis as having said he was looking for a teacher, with strong communication and leadership qualities. He hired Bill Peters, who was at that time an assistant coach with the Detroit Red Wings.

Peters had spent three years working primarily with the Red Wings’ defensemen and penalty kill units. It has been easy to see throughout his time with the Hurricanes that his forte is defense, as he has taken a group of young players and turning them into very good defensemen. Prior to this season getting underway, Flip Livingstone included the Hurricanes in his post at naming the NHL’s four best defensive units heading into 2017-18:

Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Klas Dahlbeck are four returning defensemen who were taken in the first three rounds of the draft, while only Jaccob Slavin (fourth) was taken outside the top three. So, they have the collective pedigree to be elite. Also, don’t forget, this is the same group that allowed the fifth-least shots on goal per game last season. The only change in this year’s group is the addition of two-time Stanley Cup winner Trevor van Riemsdyk, who will provide an element of experience and stability.

For most of his time at the helm. Peters’ defensemen have been the strength of the team. Unfortunately, this season has not been one that has lived up to expectations for the Hurricanes defense. In their recent 7-3 beatdown at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night, goalie Scott Darling – while making plenty of mistakes – was often hung out to dry by the defense.

The tweet below shows on a particular play it was pretty much Darling left to himself to face the Oilers, which is more often than not a recipe for disaster for the ‘Canes.

In No Man’s Land for Four Years

The worst place for an NHL team to reside is in no man’s land. This where they live when they don’t make the playoffs but are not bad enough to be in the running for a potential franchise-changing player come draft time. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes (and their fans), the team has made it a habit to reside in no man’s land for many seasons.

To their credit, they have been close to making the playoffs a couple of times in the past four years, providing some excitement for their fans. But the Hurricanes’ inability to close in the final few weeks has inevitably doomed their chances for postseason play. Since 2009, April has come and gone with no extra hockey in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Hurricanes bench coaches
Bill Peters and Carolina Hurricanes coaches, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the NHL, not making the playoffs is a sure ticket to the head coach to exit. In fact, the sub-headline to the Toronto Star article referenced earlier about Muller’s firing said, “Muller did not make the playoffs in three years behind the bench.” By that measure, Peters is on borrowed time.

Peters was asked after Tuesday night’s bloodletting at the hands of the Oilers if he had ever been through any adversity like this before – not making the playoffs in four years. Peters said, “Oh no, that part of it is fine. That doesn’t bother me at all. That’s reality, right?” An objective response to his answer would have to include concern that maybe he has lost hope. Lost hope that is for the season and maybe for his future with the Hurricanes. On the bright side, whatever Peters’ future, it should become clear very soon. He and the fans will be glad to be rid of the uncertainty.