As the Carolina Hurricanes enter the 2017-2018 season, most of the front office and coaching staff is still intact. Some shakeups in the training department and a major move for a new goaltending coach highlight the changes.
Most of the core staff have been here three full seasons, and yet have no playoff appearances to show for it. So how short is the leash for Bill Peters and Ron Francis? Probably still fairly long for Francis, but is this a make or break year for the Peters regime?
It is widely known that the hiring of Bill Peters four years ago surprised the hockey community. Many experts did not have his name listed anywhere when speculating a replacement for Kirk Muller. Yet here we are going in to this fourth season at the helm of the Hurricanes, and expectations have never been higher.
For Peters, one must start asking how many years will the Hurricanes give him to make the playoffs before moving on? In a win now league the fans expect Peters to push the Canes into the playoff conversation this season. While much of the blame for missing the playoffs the past three years cannot be placed on Peters, he did raise quite a few eyebrows with his decision making in goal last year - enough to get the national media questioning his coaching tactics. The days of blasting Eddie Lack are behind Peters now and he must be more decisive in his decisions for the 2017-2018 campaign.
Entering this year Peters has led the Hurricanes to a 101-101-42 record. While that is .500 by NHL standards the alarming stand out is the overtime losses. Those need to be corrected this year in order for the team to compete.
Overall, Peters has done a very good job of putting his system in to place for a young team and the win/loss numbers don’t tell the full story of a total rebuild. Peters knows the game and, even with his corny jokes at times, he is still the man for the job in Carolina. He has challenged the team throughout camp to compete and has basically forced management into naming a captain per his wishes. All combined, if the Hurricanes still haven’t made the playoffs in two more years it should be time to questions Peters as the coach, but for now trust the man who came from an organization that went to the playoffs 25 straight years.
When Peters was signed to lead the Hurricanes he brought with him Steve Smith. In his first two years Smith was criticized for having bad defenses and seeing far too many defensive breakdowns. Much of this can be attributed to having the likes of Ryan Murphy, Jay Harrison and even Jakub Nakladal (remember him?) playing for him. Last season we saw the Hurricanes step up and be recognized as one of the best in the NHL. This led many, including our very own Kyle Morton, to say Smith was the most impressive coach last year.
Upper management had finally provided Smith with some truly good defensive players and he was able to utilize them perfectly. To no surprise this also showed with the penalty kill unit, which Smith is also in charge of, being one of the best in the NHL last year. With the additions of Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, Smith should be expected to produce another top 5 penalty kill along with a strong shut down defense corps.
The lone wolf of coaches who kept his job when Kirk Muller was fired was longtime Hurricane Rod Brind’Amour. While being a face for the organization on the ice and now behind the bench, Brind’Amour is tasked with running the offense and power play. Both units have left much to be desired since Brind’Amour took over running them, to the point some called for him to be moved in to a front office job just two years ago.
While we saw some promise from the powerplay last year it was never where it needed to be. With the talent Brind’Amour has on this roster, the power play unit must improve this season. Smith stepped up his job when given better talent, and now Brind’Amour needs to do the same since he has a solid core of offensive talent to work with. (All that being said, asking a man who did more grinding than scoring to run the powerplay may be a mistake in the first place, but I digress...)
Rod Brind’Amour will always have a job with the Carolina Hurricanes no matter what. That’s the perk of being the captain of the only Stanley Cup victory in organization history. However, if his offense doesn’t step it up this year, one has to begin to wonder if he is better served in the front office just like Ron Francis was. Either way he is behind the bench once more this season and his expertise of the game can only be a good thing for the young kids like Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas.
The biggest offseason move for the Hurricanes this summer may also be the most overlooked. Letting David Marcoux go and bringing in Mike Bales to be the new goaltending coach is the steal of the year. Bales, who was served in the same role with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past four seasons will be the key to how well Scott Darling and Cam Ward man the net.
It was publicly known that Marcoux did not gel with Eddie Lack and may be part of the reason Lack could never succeed in Carolina. Bales brings with him a history of developing goalies and leading them to Stanley Cups. Matt Murray worked directly with Bales and has become one of the best in the league.
If he can bring a balance of coaching and leadership to the goaltending it would greatly increase the chance of hockey in late April at PNC Arena. Darling was brought in to be the number one, but in many ways so was Lack. Bales must make sure Darling gets the starts he needs by pushing him to take the number one spot and pushing Peters to ride Darling even if he has a bad game. In the same respect, if he can coach Ward into learning how to play as a backup, who knows, the Hurricanes may actually have a goaltending tandem not ranked in the bottom five of the league.
Another offseason transition was to let long-time head trainer Pete Friesen go. After 21 season with the team, the difficult decision was made to go in a new direction. The team named Doug Bennett as head athletic trainer and Bill Burniston as head strength and conditioning coach. Brian Maddox, who previously served as head athletic trainer for the Charlotte Checkers, joins the Hurricanes as assistant athletic trainer. The impact of these changes will take years to truly see but we will have to keep a careful eye on how quickly guys are able to return to games this year after an injury. Friesen was fantastic at his job but sometimes you must change things to move forward.
Elsewhere, Chris Huffine returns for his 18th season as the team’s full-time video coach. L.J. Scarpace was added to the staff as a second video coach under Huffine. Lastly, Eric Tulsky, who has worked full-time for two years as the Hurricanes’ hockey analyst after a year of part-time work, was moved up to manager of analytics. While the debate is still out about the usage of analytics, there is no doubt Tulsky is one of the best around at his job.
April 28, 2014 is a date that most Hurricanes fans see no meaning in. However, it is the day that things truly began to change in Raleigh. Why is that, you ask? Because this is the day Ron Francis was named the 8th general manager in franchise history.
Francis came in and said from the start he was going to rebuild this team through the draft and development and he has stuck to that. Over three years later, Francis has developed one of the strongest defensive corps in all of hockey. He has other GM’s drooling at his prospect depth . By practically stealing former Stanley Cup winning players from around the league (okay, mostly the Blackhawks, but is that really a bad team to trade with?), Francis has hopefully gathered a perfect balance of young blood and veteran leadership.
Francis knows this is a vital year for the Hurricanes and he went out and brought in the main pieces that obviously needed to be fixed. The only hole he didn’t fill was the number once center role. Despite far too many rumors of a Matt Duchene trade, Francis used his poker face to prove he would not give up a young defenseman for a potential two-year rental. To counteract, he drafted Martin Necas who looks like he may develop into a strong center down the line.
Outside of the rink, Francis has been great with the media and pushed the team to be involved with the community. While ticket sales have been down, Francis has asked for patience. This may finally be the year that the patience pays off. When there are only 30 other men on this earth that get to do the job that Francis does, the microscope that you must live under is huge. Francis’ hair has gone grey and he is likely exhausted daily. But he deserves more credit than he will ever get for turning around that giant mess Jim Rutherford left him. The future is extremely bright under Francis and the fans have begun to see that.
Waddell is in his third year as the President of Gale Force Sports & Entertainment and oversees all business aspects of the Hurricanes and PNC Arena. Waddell has had a busy summer but that is mostly due to the potential sale of the team. He did go on record saying the team made about $2 million dollars last season despite being last in attendance. His big claim to fame is likely the fact that the organization has added over 50 new positions to the staff since he took over and over 40 of those in the sales department which should help bring more fans to the building. However, prices have steadly increased under his leadership as well (including parking going up to $20 this year).
More often than not the less we hear from Waddell, likely the better. Depending on what happens with the sale of the team, don’t be surprised if you hear Waddell’s name more often this season than any other as business details start to emerge.
Peter Karmanos Jr.
The man who needs no introduction has been in the spotlight more this offseason than he has been since probably 2006. Rumors started months ago that PK had a deal in place to sell the team to Chuck Greenberg. While a letter of intent to sale has been signed, nothing is official and we have been in a dead limbo for what seems like an eternity now.
Expect to hear a lot from PK soon as the potential sale goes further along in the process. He will either get celebrated this year or the fans will dislike him even more should the sale not go through. But as it stands he is indeed still the owner of the Hurricanes and a Hall of Famer, although most are hoping he is only one of those by 2018.