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Behind The Headlines, The Structure of the Hurricanes Takes Shape

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Wednesday’s press conference to introduce Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour and GM Don Waddell offered a look behind the curtain at a franchise that may not be experiencing the widely-reported turmoil.

Jamie Kellner

The press conference Wednesday introducing Rod Brind’Amour as the fourteenth head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes had most of the requisite accolades.

From owner Tom Dundon: “I remember walking in and meeting Roddie and I was a little intimidated. But he’s the best asset we had here, and I figured that out through this process. It was going to be difficult for anyone to impress me the way Rod did. We are very, very lucky and extremely fortunate.”

From Brind’Amour himself: “For whatever reason, our expectations have fallen here. We need to raise them again.”

More Brind’Amour: “We have a lot of guys in that room who can give more. If we can get a little more out of every guy, we will be where we need to be. We’re going to demand more from our players. And I think they want that.”

But what may have been the more interesting angle to come out of the press conference was a picture of what the Hurricanes are going to look like as an organization going forward. For the first time since Jim Rutherford was looking for puck moving defensemen at every opportunity, the Canes have an organizational identity, with defined roles and accordant expectations.

Brind’Amour will be a coach unlike any other the Hurricanes have had. Dundon made that clear: “I’ve come to the conclusion that strategy is pretty overrated,” the owner said. “I don’t believe the strategy differences are as important as getting the right culture and the right attitude. I think [Brind’Amour] gives us the best chance of getting the most out of our players.”

Which is to say that Dundon’s charge to Brind’Amour is to be the motivator in chief. He will be on the same level, organizationally, as new GM Don Waddell, if not even a bit higher. Brind’Amour will have a direct line to Dundon’s office, and if he says he needs a specific kind of player, Dundon will walk down the hall to Waddell and tell him, in as many words, “make it happen.”

For his part, Waddell offered a bit of insight into the organizational structure, which has Dundon at the top but a hive mind of about 15 people below him, all of whom are expected to collaborate when decisions need to be made.

“You have one of the more active owners in the NHL involved. He’s trying to learn all aspects. But the biggest thing for me is, right from day one, everything is a collaboration. It’s not one, two, three people making a decision. You’re trying to get input from as many people as you can.”

“I don’t think it’s much different than what some other teams are doing, but we’re probably much more proactive in doing it.”

Jamie Kellner

Almost a forgotten man in the hoopla surrounding one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise being elevated to head coach, Waddell admitted that the results of the draft lottery had a lot to do with his change of heart, from saying a month ago that he would not be interested in being the permanent GM to sitting on a stage accepting that very role.

“Tom called me that night and said ‘you’re the GM’,” Waddell joked.

But jokes aside, Waddell said that in the process of interviewing candidates, Dundon eventually came to the conclusion that the person who checked the most boxes was the one sitting on the same side of the table with him.

“When you get to know Tom, you learn that he has a lot of passion,” Waddell said. “We talked to a lot of potential candidates and Tom had asked me about it. As it went on, we talked more about it, and finally came to the conclusion that this opportunity is a great one.”

And as for the perception of simply being Don Waddell, former GM of a team that never won a playoff game and eventually failed to the point of leaving town, he admits that he can’t change the past, but made a point of saying that in Carolina he has one boss, whereas he had nine with the Thrashers, and the organizations are different enough that what happened there has little to no bearing on the future of the Hurricanes.

“I could go back and tell you lots of things that went on in Atlanta, but it doesn’t matter. You always want to have success when you’re leading a team. As you go through opportunities like that, you believe you’ve gotten smarter at the job and learned more things. It was a tough situation [with the Thrashers].

“I know it’s going to be out there, but you can’t change the past. You can only try to learn from those experiences and be better from them.”

The building blocks for this experiment are now in place, and it’s going to be a long, brutal wait until October to see how they translate to putting a winning hockey team on the PNC Arena ice. And while the Hurricanes are going to see plenty of resistance to how they do things, Waddell is convinced that it’s fear of the unknown more than anything else that’s powering the skepticism.

“Hockey has the most tradition as far as changes being accepted,” he said. “We haven’t had as many ownership changes in the NHL as some of the other sports. We still have a lot of people who have been in the business for a long time. Whenever someone talks about involvement from ownership, it’s not viewed well on the outside, because we haven’t seen it. Every other major league sport has seen it, but the NHL hasn’t.

“I truly believe it’s the wave of the future. The only way we’re going to prove it to anyone is to have success on the ice.”