After four seasons behind the bench and a middling 137-138-53 record to show for it, Bill Peters parted ways with the Carolina Hurricanes last week. It was an oft-predicted move, and one that probably suits both team and coach, but it still leaves both with plenty of questions looking ahead.
For better or worse, the Canes are headed in a very new direction under the ownership of Tom Dundon, and will wade into the waters of the offseason in search of both a new general manager and head coach. Citing a lack of offensive production and being “too easy to play against” as the season came to an end, Dundon has been anything but static through his first few months in Raleigh, but seems to have a clear idea of what he wants — even if what his plan is to achieve his goals with the team is a little murky to the rest of us.
Nonetheless, there are clear steps one and two here. Hire a GM, and then let that person assess the team, staff and other personnel as they select the right head coach for the team. But if early indications hold true, the new bench boss could bear a familiar face.
Rod Brind’Amour — he of seven years experience already behind the Canes’ bench as an assistant coach — could get his shot at leading the young team as he sees fit. The players know and respect him, he undoubtedly has an in-depth understanding as the organization, both from a coaching perspective as well as that of a player, and his work with the special teams units has led to Carolina’s consistency when up or down a player or two throughout the last several campaigns. Brind’Amour’s name was the first to come up upon rumors of Peters’ departure surfacing earlier this month.
Then there’s Mike Vellucci, currently guiding the Charlotte Checkers through the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs in the American Hockey League. Vellucci, who also holds the title as Canes assistant GM, excelled with Charlotte in his first season there, helping them to a 96-point performance over 76 games — the team’s highest total since posting 97 in 2010-11 — and skate to a 2-0 series lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in their first-round series.
Both coaches would fit rather seamlessly and bring plenty of upside, but Carolina also runs the risk of spinning their wheels in the mud if they promote from within. For all of Dundon’s “change everything, nobody’s safe” tactics, hiring the team’s current assistant coach or the head coach of its farm squad sends a conflicting message. That’s not to say that either Vellucci or Brind’Amour would guarantee more of the same mediocrity for the Canes, but when you’re going for an organizational shakeup, perhaps bringing someone in rather than up will ensure that the right pieces get shaken.
Todd Richards, current assistant coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, comes to mind. After two separate stints as an NHL head coach, during one of which he managed the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance and playoff win in franchise history after just two years as their full-time head coach, Richards boasts a record of 204-176-37 in 417 games and has spent the past two seasons working under Jon Cooper in Tampa.
A former head coach who has had success at the helm of a young, promising side in Columbus, now assisting one of the League’s best bench bosses in Cooper brings a unique pedigree that could help revitalize Carolina’s core. Peters lost the room towards the end of last season, but a brand new voice combining experience and new ideas could help the team hit the reset button after a demoralizing last few seasons.
It comes down to a calculated risk. The players know and respect Brind’Amour and Vellucci, but more of a similar message could become stale. Meanwhile, other coaches like Richards bring new tactics and systems, but may be subject to a learning curve as they get used to the Hurricanes as individuals.
Bill Peters was a risk that worked well for a few years; the Canes did take steps forward under his leadership. But eventually they were just walking in place. Regardless of who Dundon and Interim GM Don Waddell choose to consider, the general theme of blissful ignorance that has marred Carolina’s “bright future” though the latter part of Peters’ tenure cannot repeat itself.