Yesterday, Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour pulled back the curtain on the road that led him to the head coach’s office with the team he captained to the Stanley Cup in 2006. Today, our one-on-one interview series continues with a discussion about the culture change that occurred this season in the Carolina locker room, why being relevant was so crucial to this season, and which players the coach thinks took the biggest strides forward in 2018-19.
If you missed yesterday’s first part, it’s linked below. Part 2 begins immediately after.
Canes Country: You and Justin [Williams] have both talked about changing the culture around here. How much did the new attitude over the summer play into that, not just with the trades but with the guys you brought in - thinking of guys like Martinook and Ferland - that are “locker room guys.” How much was done over the course of one summer, and how much more do you think needs to be done?
Rod Brind’Amour: You’re always trying to add to it. The easy part of it was that we were pretty much bottom of the barrel, in my opinion. In everything - coming from not making the playoffs for such a long time, we want to make a change in the way we think, and that’s basically what you’re saying. We’ve got to be better at everything.
Justin’s sitting there, he’s been around. For me, it was easy. You’re the guy I want it to be, and you’re sitting in our locker room, so great. Now we have to give him the reins. He was there the year before, and you’re like “well, it still wasn’t that good.” Why? Because he wasn’t given the authority, and that’s all he needed. Then everyone else looks and goes “he’s our guy,” versus when you don’t give that guy the authority, it’s hard for him to really take off. So that’s all we had to do.
And now, you talk about the additions, sometimes you luck out. I didn’t know Martinook, but we knew people that knew him, and they all said “this guy’s awesome, you’re gonna love him.” OK, good. Not always do people tell you the right things, but in this case they did. On day one he shows up and you go “oh, that’s the kind of guy we need around here.”
Petr Mrazek, bringing him in - I don’t know him, I’ve heard he didn’t have a very good year - he comes in and he fits what we want. He’s passionate. Everyone that we kept putting in the lineup, in our group, was pushing it the right way. And then you have to win, though. You have to have that success. So that started happening, and now I think we’re in a good place. But to your point, do you have to keep getting better? Yeah. Everybody we keep bringing in has to be of a certain mindset: team first, willing to work hard, and then everything else happens. That’s the challenge of every move that we continue to make.
CC: Along the same line, you’ve mentioned - even in your first press conference - that you wanted the Hurricanes to be relevant again. To the extent that this season went well, I think that probably happened. How do you define relevance for the Hurricanes?
RBA: Two parts to it. That is probably the single most [important] goal: you want to win the Stanley Cup, but you want to get to a point where people respect you and your organization. You can just tell in press conferences, the way media talk about your team, if they really respect you. It was obvious at the start of the year, I can’t explain it but I know when I hear people talk about [us]. The pat on the back, “you’re a hard working team, good job, but they beat you 3-1.” They don’t think you’re really a threat.
I think that’s changed. By the end of the year, for sure, teams were going “hey, these guys - they’re for real.” Do you have to follow it up? Yes, of course you do. We’re going to have to do it again next year. We’re going to have to be in the mix of teams. I think that’s the first part.
The second part is in the community. We had to be relevant again. We had to give the people something to be proud about. Come watch us, be proud of your team, and the way it all worked out it couldn’t have been any better. The fan engagement with the players, the things they were doing after the games which just fell in our lap and sometimes things work out. It was never intended to be what it became. You couldn’t think of a better way to engage the community than what happened.
So we’ve done that, the bar that we wanted to raise has been raised, and now we can’t take a step back. We have to figure out a way to add to it.
CC: You’ve said more times than I can count that you thought the first 20-25 games of the season were the best of the year, and you weren’t getting the results. When those results started going your way, did it make it more difficult to go back to what you were doing when you weren’t as successful, even though it was what you were trying to do, or does a malaise set in when you’re winning when you say “well, we’re getting the results, why do we need to go back and play this other way where we weren’t getting them?”
RBA: Well, we didn’t change the way we played. The style, the system, everything was the same. We dominated the majority of our first 20 games. I mean dominated - you look at shots, but forget shots. People said “oh, your shot totals are way high” - it’s chances for and against. That’s why I couldn’t understand people [who said] “you shoot the puck too much.” Yeah, we overshoot, but guess what? Take a look, at the end of the day, at the grade-A chances, and who’s getting those. We were shooting the puck, but we were shooting it in a lot of great areas.
CC: In places where you should score.
RBA: Yes! So they were getting fascinated with the fact that you’d see ten shots that were meaningless shots. Take those off the board; I don’t care about those. So instead of us getting 40, we’d have 30 - but of those 30, we should have had five goals that night, and we were getting one and two. That’s where it was frustrating, because there’s not much you can do. You can only get so many.
Then people would be dissecting the seven or eight shots that were meaningless, and then you’d see videos of “oh, there’s no traffic.” They’d be clipping certain segments of the game that’s irrelevant. Show the other stuff, where we’re banging them off posts and we’ve got guys all over the place, diving in front of the net, blocking shots, whatever. That’s the recipe to win. That’s the way I felt.
That’s why I gave the group credit, and that’s where leadership comes in, they knew it too. They didn’t waver, and we kept playing the same way. I didn’t think we were as good, because those grade-A chances started leveling out. But we were still trying to do the same things. It’s just, all of a sudden, when we were getting 15 grade-A chances a night, we were down to 12 or 11, but we were scoring three and four a night. And I’m like “we have to get back up to that 15.” We never really did, but the puck went in.
CC: Eliminate for a second the guys who were new on the team this year, because there’s one who’s the obvious answer, I think. Of the guys who had been here previously, who do you think took the biggest step forward this season, in terms of on the ice and the atmosphere in the room?
RBA: There’s probably a couple. I’ll miss somebody. Here’s the truth on this group: we pretty much got the most out of everybody we could get, in my opinion. That’s a scary thought in a lot of ways, because what are the odds of you doing that again? But I look down the list of guys, you look at Teuvo Teravainen. I don’t know how much better he could have played. There were certain games, yeah, but overall, for the year, he got better after he signed his long-term deal than he did before. That’s usually not something you would think would happen. He did.
Sebastian Aho took a step. Do I think he needs to take another step? Yes. I think he came out really well, and I think his end of the year and the playoffs were kind of “eh” for me. Not what we would want. He took a big step though, because if you think back to when we started, he played center. I had questions whether that was going to work. I still do, in a lot of ways. But his year was pretty solid, and everyone loves him, and if you go into last summer and say this was his year, you’d say that would be a good year. So he took a big step.
I know I’ll miss a bunch of people. Just go down anyone, you name it - I think [Jaccob Slavin] took a big step. But not really - if you watch his play, it’s not much different than the year before, except we got that relevancy, and people started watching our team.
That’s what I mean - most people don’t watch our team. That’s what I talk about, being relevant, to go back to your other question. The media up in Toronto, they take a stat sheet, they say “oh, look at that, Aho’s got X amount of points, he’s a good player, right?” Yeah, he’s a good player. What about these other guys? They don’t know, because they don’t watch us. Now I think they’ll pay more attention to us.
Tomorrow: Our interview wraps up with the coach’s thoughts on the impact of injuries, how to define a successful season, and possibly the most Rod Brind’Amour take ever on the Checkers’ success.