The 2018-19 NHL season is in the books. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are history, awards have been presented and offseason activities started in a flurry last week. It was a season not soon to be forgotten by fans of the Carolina Hurricanes. As the dust has settled, taking a critical look at the inaugural year of their newly named head coach Rod Brind’Amour is in order.
Peters Paves the Way for Brind’Amour
Bill Peters had a four-year run at the Hurricanes’ helm. He was not able to get the team back into the playoffs. Arguably it was not entirely his fault as he had to deal with management providing him with less than stellar goaltenders in Eddie Lack and Scott Darling. He pleaded with Ron Francis to get the team some help up the middle offensively to no avail. It can be argued that Peters did the best he could with the hands he was given.
But that is now part of Hurricanes’ lore, the kind of stuff friends argue about over wings and beer. “Peters was a horrible coach” is met with “He got no help.” And after the requisite number of adult beverages, the cracks start flying over “those water commercials.”
Fans of the Hurricanes have much better things to focus on these days, in particular, their soon-to-be sophomore head coach, Brind’Amour, and whether or not he can guide their beloved Hurricanes back to the playoffs.
Brind’Amour Takes Center Stage
When Peters decided to leave the Hurricanes a year early – his contract allowed him to bolt a year early if he chose to do so – Carolina’s new owner, Tom Dundon, was faced with the task of naming a new head coach. Speculation and arm-chair advice flooded in from everywhere.
But billionaires don’t reach that lofty level of financial success doing what everyone else thinks they should do in certain situations. Dundon is relatively young and very successful, qualities that he has honed by thinking outside the box.
His successor to Peters would fit squarely within that characterization. In fact, there was a guy downstairs in the PNC Arena – home venue to the Hurricanes – who was asking to be given a chance. Dundon knew he could get him probably cheaper than most of the other suggested candidates. why not give the Brind’Amour wheel a spin and see where it lands?
Against the conventional wisdom he was getting from all corners, Dundon gave Brind’Amour the chance he asked for to take the helm of the Hurricanes. The criticism was almost instant from the “experts,” pondering aloud if the guy who had coached a horrific power play for the past few years had what it takes to be a head coach.
Brind’Amour ignored it all and immediately began to make his mark on the ‘Canes. His was going to be a physically and mentally “grit” and “grind” environment, not unlike the physical and mental demands he places on his own life every single day. The mantra “we did not start on time” that characterized the Peters era, would not be the theme song of Brind’Amours team.
Freshly minted as the team’s general manager, The Technician reported that Don Waddell said this about Brind’Amour: “Rod is the greatest leader in the history of this franchise, and has earned the opportunity to take charge of our locker room…Rod’s fresh ideas, ability to motivate and understanding of what it takes to bring a championship to Raleigh will help our young team take the next step toward competing to bring the Cup back to North Carolina.” Waddell was not wrong.
The Next (Best) Step by Brind’Amour
The first three months under their rookie head coach saw the Hurricanes wrestling with frustration. They were a forechecking equivalent of the cartoon Tasmanian Devil, coming at opponents’ zones hard and fast with relentless energy. Unfortunately, they were losing more than winning as the result of this new high-energy style of play was resulting in pucks not finding the back of the net.
But, Brind’Amour’s best decision as
I wrote in April of the impact of Williams’ being the Hurricanes’ captain: “He led by example in that he did not give up…The team believed – because Brind’Amour and Williams believed – that what they were doing was right, and it paid off in a big way. The Hurricanes are back in the playoffs.” What Peters refused to do for whatever the reason – naming Williams captain – Brind’Amour did without hesitation and it paid huge dividends for the team.
In February, Greg Wyshynski wrote for ESPN an evaluation of last season’s rookie NHL coaches. About Brind’Amour he wrote, “For all the questions about his hiring as a total head-coaching novice, he’s gotten something out of this squad, especially on offense.” Wyshynski also noted that Brind’Amour rewarded his squad with the opportunity to do “goofy victory celebrations.”
Goofy or not, the “storm surge” proved to be a masterful way to engage the fans and make winning at home fun and worth the price of admission. Brind’Amour and Williams made quite a team, providing leadership to the Hurricanes and inspiration to the fans. All in all, a winning combination.
Brind’Amour First Season Bottom Line
Brind’Amour guided his team back to the playoffs and beyond. In so doing it can be said that he and the team exceeded expectations, as they made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. It is not likely that too many people honestly thought the Hurricanes would make the playoffs last season, especially with. a rookie head coach, new general manager, and a two-headed goalie. But, Brind’Amour managed it all masterfully.
Brind’Amour is what you see is what you get. His “aww shucks” demeanor at post-game pressers is what you get – he’s not trying to dress up his responses in standard NHL coach-speak. He’s learning a lot on the fly, but he’s already learned how to dig deep to find the desire to put in the effort to win.
Brind’Amour’s season in review gets a resounding A-plus. He changed the locker room culture, guided his team to a deep playoff run, and gave the fans a renewed reason to come to games. And here in July, Hurricanes fans are already pumped to get Brind’Amour’s Year 2 underway.
Williams may or may not stick around for one more season, but as long as Brind’Amour is at the helm, the team is poised to play hard, fast hockey, and likely to continue to exceed expectations.