After a short break, hope is to resume posting on a (near) daily basis. Despite the fact that the 2020-21 season is far from over, the off-season began in full force for the Hurricanes this week with the announcement that the team would let Dougie Hamilton explore other options and then Thursday’s announcement that the Hurricanes had officially re-signed head coach Rod Brind’Amour to a three-year contract.
We will dive into these and other topics in the coming days, but today’s Daily Cup of Joe focuses on the here and now with Brind’Amour’s re-signing and coach of the year award on Thursday.
Rod Brind’Amour as a transformational leader
As much as he is adored and appreciated by Canes fans, I still think it is possible to underestimate what Rod Brind’Amour has done. As I said shortly after the season-ending loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the level of disappointment in that ending is actually a testament to how far this team has come in three short years under Brind’Amour. Exiting the 2017-18 season, the team was a decade removed from the NHL playoffs and a playoff appearance even with a fast exit would have been a massive step forward. Led by Brind’Amour, the team eclipsed that by a MASSIVE margin in his first year at the helm when a feel-good playoff appearance exploded into a thrilling first-round game 7 series win in overtime and a run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Only two years later, the team made the playoffs without sweating it and won a first-round series. That is good. Simple math measured by series wins puts the Canes in the top 8 in the NHL which also feels about right based on the regular season. Yet this team has very quickly used ‘making the playoffs’ as a step on the ladder with ambitions for much loftier goals. Setting goals is a start but with a young core that was among the NHL’s best during the regular season, the ultimate goal, though not guaranteed, is within reach.
Certainly, there are many others who deserve a share of the credit, but far and away Rod Brind’Amour is the key to the culture and expectations change that had to happen first before any of this was possible.
Just over three years ago when Brind’Amour was named the head coach, I penned this article entitled, “In Rod We Trust.” That article acknowledged the risk of going with a coach with no head coaching experience at any professional level, but finished by being willing to hop on the bus with a coach who very truly is one of us. Even in my wildest, most optimistic dreams, I could not have imagined how significant and fast the transformation would be.
Rod Brind’Amour as the Jack Adams Trophy winner
Obviously Rod Brind’Amour is a deserving winner of the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL’s best coach. The Hurricanes were in contention for the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best record until the final weekend. Technically, the award is specifically for the 2020-21 regular season, but it would not surprise me if broader context played a small role in the result too. In three short years, Brind’Amour has converted the Carolina Hurricanes from being a regular door mat who missed the playoffs for a decade to becoming one of the top teams in the NHL.
I said a long time ago that it would be just Rod Brind’Amour’s style to make it into the hockey hall of fame as a coach to make up for his wrongful snub as a player. Obviously that is a long way off and my hunch is that he will not choose to coach long enough to reach the levels needed, but three consecutive playoff appearances and a coach of the year award in three years is certainly on the right path.
Rod Brind’Amour’s role in taking the next and ultimate step
If the team never progresses from the level it has reached in three short years, the organization and Canes hockey community will still be better for what Brind’Amour has done. The team is very clearly in the top half of the NHL, is fun to watch largely because it is a winner and has a legitimate chance to advance in the playoffs every year. But the goal is still higher and does require another step which the team has as of yet been unable to make. The next step is being able to beat another top-tier team in a best of seven in the playoffs. The Canes arguably did that when they knocked off the Washington Capitals who were the defending champions entering the 2019 NHL Playoffs, but since then the Canes have fallen twice to the Boston Bruins and more recently to the Tampa Bay Lightning with a sweep and then two five-game series for a total record of 2 wins and 12 losses in those three series. One can rightfully argue that the series against Tampa Bay was closer than the end results suggest, but at the end of the day, the Canes have been unable to win in these series.
And therein lies the next hurdle. The Hurricanes must next figure out what it takes to beat another Cup contender in a playoff series. It might sound odd to hear, but I think the majority of Brind’Amour’s contribution to this next level of success has already been made. The team does have a mentality where it believes it can win the Stanley Cup, and it plays accordingly. The majority of the inputs into climbing over that next hurdle must come from the young players continuing to improve, learning from past failures and finding a way to be better than other great teams when it really matters. No doubt Brind’Amour plays a role in the players’ development, but I think with the transformation in terms of attitude and expectations largely completed that the next step will more so require the young players to find the higher gear necessary to beat two or more other great hockey teams in the playoffs to win the Cup. Brind’Amour’s role will need to be twofold. First, he must play a role in helping the players who have already hit high levels realize that there is another level needed. Second, there will be an element of tactics/Xs and Os and in game/in series adjustments in trying to beat another great team in four out of seven.
Rod Brind’Amour as an example of how out of tune out of town writers are
As I snarked on Twitter, one of the most interesting things with the Rod Brind’Amour saga, if you want to call it that, was seeing how out of touch out of town media still are with regards to the Hurricanes. From the very beginning, Rod Brind’Amour was never an NHL coach in the sense that he was looking for an NHL head coaching job and this one came up first. Rather, Rod Brind’Amour has repeatedly and consistently declared himself a Hurricane and part of the hockey community here. I suppose there is some tiny chance that he could have a falling out with Tom Dundon or Don Waddell and ride off into the sunset, but a couple things in that regard. First, Brind’Amour has a good working relationship with both. Brind’Amour was not at all the logical choice to become a head coach three years ago, and Tom Dundon unequivocally threw his support behind him and made a bet on him. Second, even if at some point the time does come for Brind’Amour to step away from the Hurricanes head coaching job, he is unlikely to reappear behind another bench. The Hurricanes do not represent an NHL coaching job for Rod Brind’Amour. They represented a chance to make better something that he had been a part of for 17 years. With virtually all of this being public information, the coverage of the situation by out of town, broader NHL media shows how little time they still invest in the Hurricanes.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Is anyone surprised that Rod Brind’Amour won that Jack Adams Trophy? (I actually am. Looking only at the 2020-21 regular season in a vacuum, which is technically what the award is for, I actually thought Dean Evason would win because I thought the Wild started from lower expectations and reached a similar level in the regular season.)
2) What are your thoughts on my comments about the broader NHL media being out of touch with the Hurricanes?
3) Favorite Rod Brind’Amour thing or moment as a coach? Go!