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Bill Peters’ Tenure as Carolina Hurricanes Coach Defined by Squandered Potential

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Where did things go wrong for Bill Peters, and why is there such a divergence in his reputation between Canes fans and the league at large?

Jamie Kellner

Back on March 13, after the Carolina Hurricanes had finished blowing a three-goal lead to the Boston Bruins by conceding five goals in the span of eight minutes, Bill Peters took to the podium and faced some stark questions about his club and their mental makeup. His answers - or, more specifically, his non-answers - were telling.

Are you concerned about a culture of losing that seems to be brewing here? “That’s a fair question.” Are you concerned about it? “Yeah.”

You once said that losing can be contagious. Has it gotten to that point now? “That’s a fair question. I’ll answer that at the end of the year.”

Do you feel like there needs to be a turnover here, with guys who have been here for this entire stretch of missing the playoffs? “That’s a good question.”

At that point, it was obvious that Peters had no answers left. His team had tuned him out. He was a man, figuratively speaking, without a hockey home.

After four years on the job, three of which were spent spinning wheels in mud and not really moving much of anywhere, Peters resigned on Friday, the latest casualty in a Hurricanes upheaval that had previously claimed GM Ron Francis and put everyone on the roster bar Sebastian Aho on notice that they were at risk of being replaced. For whatever reason, it wasn’t working, it was time, and owner Tom Dundon admitted as much in a radio interview with 99.9 The Fan yesterday.

There had been no discussion about a plan B scenario where Peters returned to coach the team. The discussions between the coach and owner, apparently, centered solely around whether Peters would resign or be fired. Peters choose door number one.

The reaction to Peters’ departure has been just as hard to quantify as anything else through his time in charge of the Hurricanes. Plenty of talking heads, especially in Canada, have been singing his praises to the heavens over the past few weeks. Hurricanes fans, meanwhile, can’t shuttle Peters to the waiting cab at the service entrance to PNC Arena fast enough.

Peters came in preaching accountability, but outside of a two-game scratching of Victor Rask and his famous “make a [bleeping] save” rant at Eddie Lack, he rarely held anyone accountable. Overtimes featuring Derek Ryan and two defensemen were not only occasionally seen, but they were regular features.

Instead of making the coach fit the players, Peters did his best to make the players fit his preferred style of playing. That didn’t work for players like Jeff Skinner, who is still waiting for a true playmaking center, and found himself playing fewer minutes than the likes of Brock McGinn for decently long stretches of the season.

That tunnel vision kept him fixated on the fact that Valentin Zykov was a team-worst minus-13 for a Charlotte Checkers team that had 24 players at even or better (and boasted the league leader, Philip Samuelsson, who was plus-44). He simply did not, or could not, recognize that Zykov, a goal scorer, would help the scoring-challenged Hurricanes.

All you really need to know about Peters’ tenure is that in his four years in charge, the Hurricanes’ PDO was 98.02. The next-worst team, the Buffalo Sabres, were at 98.92 - nearly a full point higher, in a statistic that is typically measured in hundredths of a point. No other team was within a full point. There’s something to say about PDO being a luck-based statistic, but in many cases teams can make their own luck. The Hurricanes never did.

It’s fair to wonder exactly what the good-looking shiny objects are that Peters’ reputation is based on. From 2014 to 2018, the Canes were:

  • Fourth-bottom in goals per 60 minutes
  • Fifth-bottom in points per 60
  • Second-bottom in 5-on-5 shooting percentage, despite having the second-highest offensive zone start percentage in the league
  • Eleventh-best in expected goals-for percentage, but third-worst in real life goals-for percentage

At what point does bad luck turn into a structural failing that Peters was, for whatever reason, unable to solve?

The story on Bill Peters as the Carolina Hurricanes head coach is mostly finished now, but it will be fascinating to see if his next stop, which by all accounts is likely to be the Calgary Flames, follows the same pattern. That will be the final chapter in his time with the Canes, a time that will be remembered for unfulfilled potential above all else.

* Stats from NHL.com and Corsica.hockey.