Canes Country recently sat down with Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour to get his thoughts on the unusual 2020-21 season, the Hurricanes’ busy offseason and how he thinks this team is shaping up for the 2021-22 season, as things get back to some level of normalcy. This is the third straight offseason we’ve had the opportunity, and like last offseason, the interview was done by phone. We got plenty of insights from the coach, which we’ll be sharing today, in part two on Wednesday and part three Friday.
In part one of the interview, we look back at last season, and discuss the players the Hurricanes said goodbye to this offseason.
Questions and answers have been lightly edited for flow and clarity, but they are listed in the order of the conversation. Enjoy!
Looking back at last season now that you’ve really had the time to step away and process it, how would you evaluate the way last season went for you guys?
I think it was a great season. We did everything we needed to do in the regular season, it was probably one of the best regular seasons that we’ve had. And then we hit the best team in the league. We’re obviously not quite there for them, but clearly nobody was. They’re the best. I think people sometimes get hung up on where you lose out, but I feel like we were knocking on the door anyway as one of the better teams, and now we’ve got to figure out how to get over that next hurdle.
In the three years that you’ve been head coach, you guys have taken that step to being a consistent playoff team and knocking on the door. How much harder is it to take that last step to being with the Tampa Bays of the world?
That’s the hardest step, to win. That’s why I think the hardest thing to do in sports is win a Stanley Cup. There’s a million things that have to go your way. That’s why it’s the greatest trophy to win. It’s that simple. So it’s the hardest step, for sure. I think the challenge now is sometimes you get close and then, like we’ve done this year, we’ve made a bunch of changes. That worries me a little bit, I’ve got to be honest. But we’ve got to try to do something to get over that hurdle, and that’s just where we’re at.
Last season was a season like no other in the NHL with all the protocols, the condensed schedule and everything else. How challenging was that for you and everyone else?
Well, it was challenging. I think that’s the one area that the league excelled at was figuring out and being able to have a season, and doing, I think, a remarkable job with how they handled everything. Once you kind of got in a routine, it just hummed along. I don’t think it was really that challenging. It was actually an easier year in a sense, because the travel was less. We played two or three games in one city and then moved on. So there was, in a way, a lot of positives. Obviously the negatives were no fans, no interaction with the players and team stuff. It didn’t feel the same, so you missed that. But under the circumstances, we all understood it, and I thought the league and our organization made the best of it.
Do you feel like going through everything last year made you, your staff and everyone else better? Is there almost a sense of ‘We got through that, we can get through anything?’
Well, yeah, because who knows what’s around the corner? I think if last year taught you anything, it was to take care of today, because we wouldn’t know what tomorrow was going to bring. It’s a good life lesson in anything — just make sure you make the most of the day you have. That’s how we approached it. It’s how we always did, but it really came to the forefront of that last year, because it was the reality.
You said you were nervous about all the changes you guys made. A lot of times in the past when we’ve talked to you going into a trade deadline or an offseason, you’ve talked about wanting to keep your group together as much as possible. This offseason saw significantly more turnover than any of the others with you as head coach. What was that process like for you with watching guys leave, new guys coming in, was it difficult?
If you remember the end of the year, I said I didn’t want to make any changes. If we could keep the group together, that was the ideal way to do it. It’s just unfortunate that this is the business that we’re in, it doesn’t work that way. Tough decisions are made. It’s part of the game. I believe that we’ve done a good job in keeping the core together, the guys that have to be here for us to be successful. I think the culture builders, all the stuff that we talk about as being really important, those guys are anchored and they’re here. That’s a good thing. But like you said, we brought in a lot of new pieces. We did a lot of work on making sure we have those pieces. We feel like we made the right decisions, but you don’t know until you know. That’ll take time and we’ll find that out as we get going here.
Some of the guys that left were guys that were here for your whole tenure as head coach and played a really big role in getting things turned around in guys like Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek and Warren Foegele, and someone like Brock McGinn who had been in the organization for a really long time. What is that like as a coach when you see guys who have been such a big part of what you’ve built here end up leaving?
That’s tough, I’ll be honest. We develop personal relationships with the players. You invest in them, and they invest in what you’re trying to do. It’s hard to see them go. At the same time, generally, in Dougie and Brock’s case, you almost feel like you helped them out in a way, because they got some big money. So that’s part of the game; that’s just the way it goes. We didn’t want to lose either one of them. I thought we made good offers to keep them. I think that’s the key. Brock’s case was a little different. I didn’t want to lose him, but I understand the game, the business. Dougie, that’s a lot of money. Good for him. I’m happy for him that he’s able to cash in on that.
Warren Foegele, that one’s tough, but we had a need now. One move precipitated another move. We think we got a great player in Ethan Bear. So you’ve got to give up something to get something. That’s kind of what happened there. Petr was great, I loved him. But again, that’s where the business side takes over. So there is that. I think you always feel like when guys come here and you have that relationship, it’s tough to see them leave. But you’re also happy for them, because you put them in a better place. That’s how I feel for all our guys that left. They got better contracts. They served us well, and I think it was mutual, if you know what I mean.
One guy that you did bring back that I think a lot of us from the outside thought might move on is Jordan Martinook. I think I saw that he said that a conversation with you was a big factor in him returning. How important was it to you to bring a guy like that back?
Like I said, I wanted to bring all the guys back, it’s just the financials didn’t work on some things. That’s the business side. With him, it was important. I think he’s a big, big part of what we’re doing off the ice as well as on the ice. He was a part of these last three years of kind of righting the ship and getting us in the right direction. I was happy that I was able to convince him to stay. I didn’t think I had to convince him too much. It was a pretty easy conversation, but we need guys to bleed the colors, so to speak, and he’s one of them.
Stay tuned for part two Wednesday, in which we’ll get Brind’Amour’s thoughts on each of the new players the Hurricanes brought in this summer.