We wrap up our series of interviews with Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour today by focusing on life after Justin Williams, how the coach’s perspective has changed with two seasons in the books and how close the Hurricanes are to joining the NHL’s elite.
As before, questions and answers have been very slightly edited for flow and clarity, but they are listed in the order of the conversation. The first portion of the interview is available here, and the second is here. Enjoy!
Canes Country: Let’s talk for a second about Jesper Fast. The Hurricanes didn’t necessarily have to make a big splash in free agency, but from everything that was said when he was signed it seems like, if you were going to make an addition, he was the type of guy that you were going to target. Why is it important to you to get a guy like that in your lineup?
Rod Brind’Amour: Well, he’s a quality person. That’s what you build on. I think that’s what the message has been since we got started here, we want everyone in this room to be that and fit that criteria. Obviously if you can be a talented player and provide some sort of skill set, that’s awesome — but that’s a bonus. But we need to just get quality people in here who do what they have to to win.
That’s the reputation he has. It was an easy fit to go after him, the question was were we going to get him? I think we are fortunate to do that. He doesn’t take Justin Williams’ spot, but in a way that was the one hole we were going to miss upfront, and to plug it in with being a character person I think we did really well there.
CC: You mentioned Justin, and I don’t want to harp on what all of us have talked about before about what he’s meant to the team. We all know that. But when he came back, he came back to fill a very specific role. And when you took over as coach, you wanted him to fill another specific role, to be the go-between between the coaches’ office and the locker room.
Now we know he’s not coming back. There’s no question about that, we are moving on. Question one, do you need a guy to fill that role, and question two, don’t name names, but do you have a guy or guys in mind who can possibly fill that role, if it needs to be filled, without Justin there?
RBA: Well we have that now, and I think it was there. Remember, Justin only played a couple months last year. We went the bulk of the year without him. And our leadership’s really good. It was aided by having Willy around for a couple years to kind of reinforce how to handle things.
And I think our guys, obviously Jordan Staal took some big steps in that leadership department and I think he owes a lot to Willy. Even in talking to Willy, when he was going to sit out for that portion of the season, I was pretty sure he was going to come back, but we had talked about that and he reassured me that Jordan had fully taken that step and feels comfortable in that leadership role now. And I think that’s only going to continue moving forward.
CC: Obviously with Justin hanging around in the area, there’s going to be an open question of how is he going to interface with the team, if at all. Is that a conversation that at some point you would consider having with him, maybe not even in a formal role but just to have around the locker room as a presence and a shoulder to lean on if nothing else?
RBA: I see him all the time. We coach minor hockey together, with our kids. His daughter is on my son‘s team. So we see each other every week, three times a week. So he’s around, and he coaches his son too, so he’s busy doing what he wants to do.
How much he wants to get involved, or when he does, will be a conversation I’m sure he’ll bring up at some point. But he’s family, so he’s always allowed to come into the room. That’s the easy one, he’ll be around as much as he wants to be around. The question will come, do you want to actually work? He’s doing what he wanted to do now, which is spend time with his kids and coach them, enjoy life, play golf. We’d love to have him around, and we’ll see where that all goes.
CC: I want to go back to the potential season format quickly. Although we don’t necessarily know what it’s going to be, it’s probably not going to have 82 games. When it has fewer than the normal number, that means every game takes on a little more of an outsized importance. Is that something that, with the team being as close as they are and not having much turnover, that you could use to your advantage, since you may not have that learning curve that a few other teams who may not be quite as familiar with each other might have to worry about to start the season?
RBA: That would be the hope. And that would be the reason to not have a lot of turnover. You don’t want to have to take time to really get up to speed. And I say that, last year we had a lot of turnover. And we started the season 5-0.
But really, I don’t know if it matters that much, but I think where it will really show is if we can have a good season and get to the playoffs again, having gone through that adversity we went through as a group in the playoffs, taking it on the chin a little bit, I think that’s where you would see the growth of not having big changes. Fighting through that together will be huge.
CC: How do you feel as a coach going into your third season, as compared to your first two seasons? Are you more comfortable now? Are there some things that may have surprised you over the past two years that you may not have considered before you took the role? Where is Rod Brind’Amour the coach now after having done this for a couple of years?
RBA: Good question. I hadn’t really thought about it. Again, I’m always looking forward, so when you ask that I’m thinking “how did I feel when I started?” I don’t even remember.
I do remember when I started, I wasn’t sure if our system that I was putting in was going to work, because we were pretty drastic in some of the things that we were doing. That’s why I wasn’t sure if that was going to take. So I was nervous about that.
And then in year two I knew it worked, so I think that part was gone, but now you’re apprehensive because you have to tweak stuff all the time. And the stuff you tweak is what you worry about. Is that going to take? Is that going to make us better? Because you certainly don’t want to go backwards.
But how do I feel? I feel fine, because I love our group. There are good people in here, and I guess that’s comforting, is a good way to put it.
CC: Are [the Hurricanes] closer today to winning the Stanley Cup than you were when you took over, and if so, how much further do you think there is before you’re really considered in the Lightning/Bruins/Golden Knights tier of the conventional-wisdom contenders? Do you feel like you’re there, or if not, how much farther do you think you have?
RBA: We’re here to win. That’s what we’re preparing ourselves to do. We want to be thought of in that way, but to do that you have to be consistent for years. You have to put the runs together, and do it year after year, and we haven’t done that yet. But we’ve done it a couple of years here, and I think if we continue to do that, and compete with the best, and beat the best, then we’ll get into that grouping. But we aren’t there yet. You have to earn that, and I think we’re on our way.