There is no nice way to dance around things nowadays if you are a Carolina Hurricanes fan. The team has disappointed so far. Many people, myself included, were very high on the Hurricanes being a competitive team that would be a major player in the playoff hunt come the end of the season. As things have turned out, we were wrong.
With Wednesday's 4-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Canes have dropped six of their last seven games and sit four games below .500. Their 15 points are good for 14th in the Eastern Conference and 28th in the NHL. Only the New York Islanders and the Columbus Blue Jackets have worse records than Carolina.
So what's the matter? Where have things gone wrong? Eric Staal can't seem to find his scoring touch, lines (for the most part) seem highly unstable, passes have been atrocious at times, defensive positioning has been suspect and the list continues to go on from there. Up to this point in the season, the effort was there but the breaks were not. Bad bounces and untimely goals doomed the Canes toward the beginning of the season. The Hurricanes seemed to be in every game (even in the lopsided losses they had leads or were tied in the third period) until a recent stretch of ugly games.
Over the past few games, the Canes have sometimes not seemed to have all of the energy and motivation that paid professionals should have. Normally, a team with such an issue usually doesn't have an issue with individual players. It's not like Jeff Skinner is noticeably indifferent each game, or that Tuomo Ruutu or Eric Staal are skating in quicksand night in and night out. It's the whole team.
If it's not the team, it must be the coaching. It's no secret that many Caniacs are certainly opposed to the current Carolina coach, Paul Maurice. Chants of "Mo Must Go" and various outlets (like our very own CanesCountry blog) are being bombarded with outraged fans who demand to see Maurice be fired. Is that what needs to happen to turn the Hurricanes around? The last two times a coach was fired (Maurice before in December 2003 and Peter Laviolette in December 2008) the team had a noticeable turnaround, so maybe that is the answer.
Of course it's easy for fans to suggest which direction a team needs to go in - especially a coaching change. The question would be though, if Paul Maurice was let go by the team, who else is out there that could fill his shoes? What coach could GM Jim Rutherford go after that would be available, have something different to bring to the team, and even want the job in the first place (a struggling small market team with a very displeased fan base isn't exactly a dream job)?
First of all, I have to mention that there is a lot of talent standing behind the Hurricanes bench. Paul Maurice is lightyears away from being an awful coach, but sometimes things go stale and messages become so repetitive that they lose their effectiveness. Beyond him, Dave Lewis and Tom Barrasso are a reliable assistant duo as well. Lewis had two good years with the Red Wings and a trying season with a developing Bruins team, making him a feasible option to take over head coaching duties. However, he is responsible for the defensive side of the team and fans know that is an area that the Canes have struggled with mightily. Barrasso is more of a goaltending consultant for Cam Ward and Brian Boucher, not sure if he would succeed in a head coaching role.
All of the Hurricanes player alumni in the front office does give fans a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it almost hurts the team in situations like this. The Ron Francis experiment seemed to fizzle out over the past few seasons as he was moved to Director of Hockey Operations. Rod Brind'amour would certainly be an ominous figurehead behind the bench, but he's such a new coach that his legs are still recovering from his playing days. Glen Wesley seems very Paul Maurice-like in his approach to the game - very soft-spoken and diligent. Jeff Daniels has had some success in Albany and Charlotte and would most likely be a serious candidate for a vacant head coaching job despite not having any NHL head coaching experience.
If Rutherford decided to explore the free agent pool of coaches there would certainly be some candidates out there worth considering.
Davis Payne was most recently employed by the St. Louis Blues before being fired in early November. He led the Blues to a 67-55-15 record over the course of three years. His squad finished fourth in the tough Central Division each of his first two seasons which did not sit well with ownership. Payne guided an underachieving, overhyped group of players to a mediocre .500 record, missing the playoffs in both of his seasons at the helm (sound familiar anyone). Someone with such a lack of flash and overwhelming success would probably not last very long with a fan base that needs a shot of life.
John Stevens would be an interesting name to consider as it would complete the Flyers-Canes coaching swap. Laviolette replaced Stevens behind the Philadelphia bench in December of 2009 (Does everyone get fired in December - Happy Freaking Holidays!). Stevens achieved two straight 40+ win seasons and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Flyers before his dismissal. He was fired for leading his team to a 13-11-1 record to start the 2009-10 season. The downside on Stevens would be that he already has a job. He signed a three contract to be an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings which would run until June 2013 so the Canes and the Kings would have to work something out in order to get him, something Rutherford (and Peter Karmanos) wouldn't be happy doing.
Someone who would be familiar with the Hurricanes organization would be Bob Hartley. Hartley may be remembered by many fans as the former coach of the Winnipeg... err... Atlanta Thrashers. Hartley guided the Thrash to their only playoff appearance and amassed 136 wins with the young franchise. Hartley's coaching resume extends beyond Atlanta as well. He coached the Colorado Avalanche from 1998-2003. During his four complete years in Denver, Hartley won four Northwest Division titles and had three 40+ win seasons and a 52 win season. He guided the Avs to the Conference Finals every year and won the Stanley Cup in 2001. He was fired after 31 games of the 2002-03 season after putting up just 10 wins. Hartley is actively coaching a team in Zurich, Switzerland. His contract with them runs out March 2013, but snagging him away from a European team might be tricky.
Another coach with a Stanley Cup ring would be Marc Crawford. Crawford has been through a lot during his 15 seasons in the NHL. He transitioned a Quebec Nordiques team to Denver, Colorado and led that team to a Stanley Cup title in their first year. He transformed the Vancouver Canucks from Northwest Division doormats to perennial Stanley Cup contenders in his seven seasons there. He's also experienced the lows of coaching a rebuilding team in the LA Kings and the Dallas Stars at the end of his career. Crawford was behind the bench for the Stars loss in the last game of the season that caused them to miss the playoffs (again, sound familiar?). He was fired two days after the end of their season after guiding the Stars to a 42-29-11 season. Crawford is currently unemployed which would immediately make him the most enticing option.
Some "longshot" candidates would be people like John Anderson, who coached the Thrashers for two unproductive seasons, former coach-turned broadcaster Ed Olczyk, or current Brandon Wheat Kings/former Senators coach Cory Clouston. There are also some good hockey minds out there that would make for interesting coaches. Commentators Barry Melrose, Ray Ferraro or Mike Milbury have hockey sense and could probably run a team. That being said, would any of these coaches be a good fit for a team that needs to turn a season around?
"Mo Must Go" seems to be the ringing theme around the RBC Center, but is there really someone else that would be a better choice? Is there really another quality coach that the Hurricanes could realistically talk to and hire that would take the job?
Here are some of their lifetime records, according to Hockey Reference.com.
Only time will tell. Who would you like to see?