Canes Country recently sat down with Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour to get his thoughts on the past season and how he thinks his team is shaping up for the new season, whenever it begins. It’s the second straight season that we’ve had the opportunity, but unlike last year when we were able to talk in person, this year it had to be by phone. Even with the limitations that the world imposed on us, we got plenty of insights from the coach, which we’ll be sharing through the rest of the week, in part two tomorrow and part three on Friday.
Questions and answers have been very slightly edited for flow and clarity, but they are listed in the order of the conversation. Enjoy!
Canes Country: What lessons can you take out of how last season ended - if you can take any out of it given how weird everything was when you got back to playing, and how everything was kind of turned on its head from how you typically handle the end of the season?
Rod Brind’Amour: I try not to take a lot out of every year, because every year you want to start fresh and kind of look forward, not behind. But I think you want to build on where we were. So what I take away is: do feel like I know where certain guys’ games are, did our younger guys progress, are they going in the right direction, are we going to get better just by getting a year older and having that experience factor? I think we will.
For me, I don’t like a lot of turnover in your lineup if you’re going in the right direction. And I think we are, and I think that’s what I like about this off-season. We’re not bringing in [many] new guys, and I think that kind of continuity should help us moving forward. We’ve added a couple of pieces here and there, but really I thought we’re heading in the right direction and we just have to keep building.
So, to your question [about] what’s the take away, I think a lot of positives, really. All throughout the year, and on an individual basis with a lot of players. Obviously we need that to continue.
CC: I promise I’m not going to dwell on this, but I really want to get your thoughts on one thing you said, which is continuing to move forward year after year. Anyone can look at the playoff results and say “well, they made it to the conference finals two years ago, they didn’t get out of the first round last year, it must have been a step back”. Do you think the team took enough of a step forward last year, even given the results of the playoffs, that you’re still on the path you laid out and you’re still headed in the direction you want to move?
RBA: I think it’s kind of obvious. I think you just have to watch the way we’re playing. First of all, I kind of get confused on whether it’s a first round knockout — or did we make it to the second round? Because I viewed it as the second round. We played a playoff round to get [to] that. So to me, we got beat in the second round by the same team that beat us last year, but they are also the best team in the league.
You can look at it anyway you want — it really doesn’t matter, because it’s over with — but the positive of it is that we had, I think, the eighth- or ninth-best winning percentage in the league. And that’s a pretty good year, considering that I thought we could be better. That just, to me, shows that the bar has been raised, and that’s what we wanted to do.
And I certainly think that we took a step. Our series against Boston was certainly better than it was last year. So it doesn’t really matter where you play these games. That’s just kind of how the cookie crumbled. The best team in the league ended up playing the eighth-best team in the league. I felt like we played them better this year than we did last year, so that’s how I would gauge where we were at. So you can say “Oh, they got knocked out in the first round;” I’m saying we definitely looked better this time around against them than we did last year.
So, to me, that’s a step forward. Yeah, the results aren’t there; we’re trying to win the Stanley Cup. But I think we took a nice stride, and knowing we can be better still gives me hope. That’s why I feel like we’re on the right track.
CC: One of the things you didn’t want to do last year, or wanted to do as little as possible, was put Sebastian Aho on a line with Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov. From your side, I can see where you wanted to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, but then when they were put together they were one of the best lines in the league. As a coach, how do you balance those two realities, wanting to get the most out of these players but not making you too easy to play against?
RBA: It’s about winning. If you’re winning with that combination, with that lineup, then you stay with it. Once it starts drying up, you have to make some adjustments. I think that’s kind of how we played it out. We kept them together as long as we could, then all of a sudden we weren’t getting the results, and we had to shake things around. It’s easy to put your three best players together and see how it goes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win. You just have to gauge if it’s better to have a little more dynamic depth throughout your lineup, or how else you want to do it.
You’ll see those guys together again, for sure, but they may not be a line the whole year. It all just depends on results.
CC: Specifically on Svech, everyone who watched him last year saw that he took a big step forward. How much more does he have to give in your estimation? Have we scratched the surface yet, or are we seeing [now] what we can expect to see for the next few years?
RBA: When you ask “how much more does he have to give,” the answer is he doesn’t have anything more left to give, because he always gives everything he can. The question is, can he get better: yes. There are lots of areas in his game still that he’s learning. You made a good point, he took a huge step from his first year to this year, and that’s kind of what I look at. I say “OK, is there still room to grow?” And the answer is yes, in all areas, to be honest with you.
That will be a process, and this time next year we’ll probably be saying the same thing. He’s going to continue to grow for a while, figuring out the game, figuring out how to play at a high level consistently, shift after shift. But I think he’s on his way for sure.
Tomorrow: we focus on defense and goaltending, and explore the possible implications of a shortened 2020-21 season.