The final part of our interview with Rod Brind’Amour touches on a few areas. How much did injuries handicap the Hurricanes in the playoffs, especially as they continued to pile up deeper into the postseason? What defines a successful season? What is the moment that best defines the 2018-19 season?
Plus, hang around for the final thought, where the coach gives what might be the most Rod Brind’Amour answer ever as it relates to the success of the Charlotte Checkers, who are one win away from fulfilling his prediction that they would claim the Calder Cup.
The first two parts are linked below, followed by the third and final part of our exclusive interview.
Canes Country: At the end of the season, guys obviously were banged up. Nobody wanted to talk about it after the year. How much did those little nibbling-around-the-edges injuries that aren’t really a thing but definitely throw you off your timing a little bit affect you down the stretch?
Rod Brind’Amour: I thought they would affect us a lot more, because they were lingering for a long time. If you look at Calvin de Haan, he was banged up. Aho was banged up too. That affected his last 20 games and playoffs, in my opinion.
CC: Was that a result of when he and Nino [Niederreiter] collided, or was there something else?
RBA: No, he had something else. But that did affect him for a week or two there. There were a bunch of guys. Martinook is the obvious one. The guy is basically on one leg, skating around and still fairly effective just because of what he brings. But I think most teams have that. It’s not like we had anything [unusual]. But it did affect us. Losing Calvin affected us, but then [Trevor van Riemsdyk] at the end, I think that really took a toll. Then we relied on five guys way too much, more than if we had had Riemer in there.
CC: There was a time this season where Brett Pesce wasn’t all that happy with how his season was going. He moved to the other side in January or so, and things kind of took off for him. It was a side that we hadn’t really seen him on in the time he had been here. What difference did that make, both for him and the downstream effects of loosening up that logjam on the right side a little bit?
RBA: He did not start the way he wanted because he was injured [over the summer]. So we had put him down just to get him going, and what happened was the de Haan and Faulk pair was actually pretty good to start the year, so it kind of left Pesce a little frustrated. Eventually, and it always does, players don’t understand that; we’ve got to get you in shape, then the minutes came, and we flipped him back into a top-four role - that’s not how I look at it, but that’s how players look at it.
The whole right-left thing, I don’t know where that got — well, I know where it started, a few years ago it was a big deal — in the NHL you should be able to play either side, and the good players can. He can, so will he play there again? Probably.
CC: You said at the end of the Boston series, and Don [Waddell] said it too, that the Hurricanes overachieved this year. Question one on that, how unusual is that for a team like this to overachieve in the way the Hurricanes did, and the second question, how do you follow that up? If you get to the conference final again next year, is that a success?
RBA: I think it depends on the year. If you look at our year, like I said, this is why I said it was successful: making the playoffs is not what your goal is, but it was a success the way we did it. The way we had to go, second-best record in hockey for 40 games - that’s a hell of a good run. So that makes it a success. If we don’t score in overtime of Game 7 [against Washington] and we lose, is that a successful year? Everything changes.
Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. That’s what the goal is. Anything less is not necessarily the goal, but can it be a success? Yes. It just depends on, to me, how the whole year works out. We might have ten injuries next year. Well, then making the playoffs might be a hell of a year. You know what I mean? You don’t know how it’s all going to shake out.
CC: The reason that came to mind, after they lost to the Blue Jackets Steven Stamkos basically said “well, we didn’t win the Stanley Cup, so the season was a failure.” Do you subscribe to that mindset? Or does it matter who you’re talking about?
RBA: I do, but it matters who you’re talking about, for sure. That team, everyone predicted to win the Stanley Cup, and they didn’t. Every team’s different. Is it a failure if you don’t win the Stanley Cup? It can be, but it also doesn’t have to be.
CC: If you can think back to one moment that defines this season, either the regular season or the playoffs, what would that moment be for you?
RBA: There’s a lot of them. That’s the problem. In the regular season there were a couple games where we could have [gone] the other way after we lost. We had a couple tough losses where we dominated games and we would lose.
There was a game in LA early in the year, I think it was a [2-0] loss. 0-0 game with a minute and a half to go, and we gave up a faceoff goal that we had talked about ten times before the game, during the game, that they were going to run. One of our players fell asleep, and it’s a guy that we count on, and we lose the game. That’s two points we lost, and you never know how it’s going to affect you, but we came out of that and the guys rallied around that guy. He was fine. That was a defining moment to me. How is this going to go for the group?
Look at the game in Florida where we were up 3-1, they come back and go ahead, then we come out and score two power play goals in the third, and win the game. The game where [Mrazek], in overtime, won it - that’s a pretty impressive little turn.
There’s the Pittsburgh game here, where we get two points out of it, score on a 6-on-5 faceoff play, get a tie and win in overtime. The Montreal game. To me, there’s a bunch of games that could have gone the opposite and we would have had a different year.
In the playoffs, to me, it was when that Ovechkin thing happened with Svechnikov. That could have [gone] one way or the other. When we came out of that game, after that happened - and we had injuries, Ferland goes out, we were down to ten forwards - we blow them out of the arena. To me, that was a defining moment. It was, we weren’t going to take a back seat to this. It’s okay, and we end up winning the series. There were a bunch of moments.
CC: How gratifying was it for you personally for this team to have this kind of success this year - just as Rod Brind’Amour the person, not even as the coach?
RBA: I don’t view it as a success for me. Everything was a success for the organization because of the scrutiny we were under. Let’s be honest, the moves that were made in the offseason were questioned. There [weren’t] too many people who were 100% sure that these were good [moves]. I said it, maybe it wasn’t you guys, but I remember [saying] the season’s either going to be a success or a train wreck. But I want either one, because I’m tired of us being in the murky middle.
I feel like we’re always...not bad, but not good. And that’s the worst. If you’re going to be bad, let’s be bad so we could get another Svech, get a [Jack] Hughes in this draft. That’s how you end up winning, people. It’s not great scouting, great [whatever] - guess what? Those teams that have won, and have gone on to be pretty good, for the most part are teams that were terrible and got lottery picks.
So let’s do one or the other. Let’s either be good or get that lottery pick. So it worked out.
CC: What is one thing as a coach that you want to either change, or refine, or do differently next year?
RBA: There’s a lot of things we’re going to do differently. I say a lot - little things. It’s all about the little things. More than anything, what would I do different? I don’t know that there are a lot of things I would do differently. It’s still kind of a work in progress for me. It’s a tough question.
We’re always changing. We’re always looking at how we can get better. You can’t just stay the same. The challenge is always finding that next thing. This year was kind of easy because it‘s fresh, and you’re putting your stuff out there. Now, how do you add to it? How do you continually get better? That’s going to be the challenge.
CC: I might ask you this again in September - I will, or somebody will. What are you most excited about going into Year 2 of this whole experiment?
RBA: I’m nervous still about the team, who we’re going to have. We have some question marks, you’re always worried about having to get better. I love these guys, so I want everybody back - I know it doesn’t work that way, but selfishly I’d like to see it. I’d like to know what the team is now, and you can’t. That’s never going to happen. That’s a better question for September, to be honest, but I am excited about a couple young players we haven’t seen yet.
I want to get [Martin] Necas in here. I want to see him. I really enjoyed this year working with Svech. One of the reasons why Necas wasn’t here, I don’t think you can have two young kids like that out there all the time. It’s too much. Too much inexperience. Svech learned along the way, we could kind of piece him in, and I think he’s ready to take a real big step next year. And I think Marty will be kind of on his heels, I’m hoping. So I’m excited to see that. And there are a couple of other young guys that I still think can make their mark on this league.
CC: How much of a difference does it make that Charlotte is going through the run they’re on right now, in terms of setting the organizational expectation that this is the bar to clear, no matter what level you’re at?
RBA: Well, you always want to win. As far as development for them, I don’t even know if it helps them or not. I started thinking about that this morning, because they’d be training right now, but right now they’re not training. They’re on the deficient mode and they’re going to have to take time off. I’m thinking, as a young guy, is this good? I’d rather see them in the gym right now getting bigger, faster, stronger, but of course you want them to have success.
So we want to be successful in everything we do, from an organizational standpoint, and raise the bar in everything. I think the fact that we played as long as we did, and now Charlotte’s going to win — I feel like they’ll win this, they’re the better team — we’ve got the better players, so that’s a good sign.
Everything has for sure been positive now. The trick is going to be to turn the page and keep building.