The season hasn’t even started for the Carolina Hurricanes and already we’re hearing the mantra that was so often repeated after losing games last year: “At times I don’t think we competed hard enough.” That was Coach Bill Peters’ analysis after the ‘Canes dropped their first two exhibition games of the season. I was dumbfounded when he said that. As the great baseball legend Yogi Berra, who died a few days ago at age 90 used to say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
It’s September and we’re not competing hard enough? For those of you who missed it I asked the players as they cleaned out their lockers last season about the frequency of hearing this sort of thing last year. The answer all around the room was simple; guys have to be ready to play. That seems fairly obvious, particularly in light of the fact that these guys are getting payed to play one of the most exciting sports on the planet. Playing in the NHL should be treated with great respect as a privilege and not taken for granted by “not competing hard enough”
Goaltender Cam Ward answered my inquiry last year in part by saying, “Leaders need to lead.” So if leaders need to lead and the team is “not competing hard enough” what does that actually mean? Are leaders not leading? If not, why not?
I hesitate to ask because it will probably ignite a firestorm of controversy, but it does bear asking:
“Do the ‘Canes need new leadership in the locker room?”
Don’t get me wrong, I love Eric Staal. Of course I’m not in the locker room other than during post-game media time, so I don’t have a full picture of his leadership with the guys in that setting. But, what I have observed is that he appears to carry the respect of his teammates. I’d be hard-pressed to pin the blame squarely on him for the team “not competing hard enough.”
Eric’s brother Jordan Staal wears the “A” as alternate team captain. I don’t see this as a source of not competing either. Jordan is a tough, smart player who, like his brother, has won a Stanley Cup. His was with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, the last year the Hurricanes made the playoffs. Both Staal brothers have been to the top of the sport and know what it takes to get there. The question is whether or not they are communicating that effectively with their teammates. Are they sharing with them the fire that it takes to grind to the Stanley Cup Finals and win it all?
The team will not succeed for yet another season without competing hard. Whether it’s the responsibility of the coaching staff, the head coach, or the team leaders to fire the guys up night in and night out, something has to change. The fans have endured six seasons of “less than” NHL hockey. These guys are not hacks. There is very real talent on this team. It’s time they at least acted like they want to go back to the playoffs.