Rod Brind’Amour’s rookie year as head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes was a huge success. In my mind, the definitive cut line for success last year was just to push into the playoffs which the team obviously did. Interrelated to that accomplishment, I think he and Justin Williams made significant strides changing the culture and attitude of the team.
Each season in the NHL is its own journey with its own challenges. Today’s Daily Cup of Joe highlights a few challenges that I foresee heading into the 2019-20 season.
The power play
The power play was a negative in 2018-19. Despite having what I think was a decent amount of talent, the power play never really clicked and finished below average for the season. The 2019-20 season sees Brind’Amour with a few new pieces in Jake Gardiner, Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and possibly one or both of rookies Martin Necas and Julien Gauthier. Just like with 2018-19, there is enough talent there. The key is figuring how best to utilize different players’ skill sets and meld a system to be successful.
Brind’Amour openly admitted that the goalie management was almost solely the result of trusting Goaltending Coach Mike Bales who proved to be a goalie whisperer. With Bales departed and Jason Muzzatti now in that role, the question is if the team can find that same magic. In an ideal world, Muzzatti will have the same magic touch as Bales, but if that is not the case, Brind’Amour could be forced to play a larger role in managing the goalie rotation.
Integrating imperfect skill players into the lineup and maximizing their skill sets
The 2018-19 Carolina Hurricanes started the season with three rookie forwards in the lineup. Warren Foegele and Lucas Wallmark were Brind’Amour type players. Foegele plays an aggressive gritty game that is heavy on compete level even if sometimes light on scoring. Wallmark won his job by being sound defensively more than anything else. And because returning the OHL made no sense and the AHL was not an option, Brind’Amour pretty much had Svechnikov inked into his lineup whether he wanted it or not.
As the season wore on, Brind’Amour demonstrated a preference for players with defensive soundness and forechecking capabilities as a foundation. With many options, he settled on hard-charging players like Clark Bishop, Greg McKegg and later Saku Maenalanen over skilled scorers with more defensive flaws like Aleksi Saarela, Martin Necas, Andrew Poturalski and Julien Gauthier.
But heading into 2019-20, arguably the greatest upside at the forward position comes in the form of high ceiling offensive players who are very likely to be a bit messy at times defensively. The question is whether Brind’Amour can put players like Necas and/or Gauthier in positions to leverage their strengths to the tune of point production and minimize any growing pains in terms of their broader games.
In 2018-19, Brind’Amour and captain Justin Williams functioned as an integrated unit. They were completely on the same page. Combine that with Williams being a natural for the role, and that portion of the 2018-19 was easy. Fast forward to 2019-20, and Williams is gone, and I do not think the most obvious choice, Jordan Staal, is a natural in that role. Staal can lead, but I just do not view him as having the same ability to move the whole locker room whether it needed to be one player at a time or the entire group in unison. As such, I think Brind’Amour first has a difficult choice to make in terms of naming a captain. In addition, I think he may need to play a larger role in managing that captain.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on these potential challenges for Brind’Amour in 2019-20? Which do you see as most integral to the team’s success?
2) Do you foresee any other challenges facing Brind’Amour in the upcoming season?