With the 10-year anniversary of the Carolina Hurricanes Stanley Cup Championship upon us, and the team 6 years removed from its last playoff appearance and off to a sluggish 5-8 start, it is interesting to compare that magical championship team to more recent teams.
Doing a thorough job of that on all levels could fill 2 weeks of Daily Cup of Joe posts, but let me instead focus on 1 interesting aspect – the role of the coach and maybe where they differed most significantly.
To this day, the most striking aspect of the 2005-06 Hurricanes hockey team was its swagger, confidence and expectation to win. They did not try to surprise people. They did not try to grind out wins. And though they definitely started that way, they did not relish the role of the underdog. They went out and kicked other teams’ asses. They attacked with speed in skill. They scored in bunches. And they were just better than whoever was on the ice with them most nights. In my opinion, we have never really seen anything like it before or since.
To have that swagger, play with that confidence and back it up by just being better than the opponent most nights, you have to have good players. There just is no way to fake that for any extended period of time.
Consider the Canes players from that season:
Eric Staal. In only his second NHL season (with an AHL season during the lockout in the middle), he scored 100 points as a 21-year old. His highest total since then is only 82 points.
Eric Cole. He had 59 points in only 60 games. He beat that number twice with 61 points, but it took 71 and 82 games in those seasons.
Ray Whitney. He was coming off a disappointing previous season in Detroit that saw him bought out, he put up a solid 55 points in 63 games.
Cory Stillman. He averaged more than a point per game for the only time in his career in the 2005-06 season.
Cam Ward. He entered the season as a 21-year old rookie with 0 games of NHL experience and exited it with the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Justin Williams. He set a career high with 76 points.
Mike Commodore. He went from being a depth defenseman in Calgary to a top 4 in Raleigh.
When you net it out, many of the Hurricanes players had their best season as a professional that season, and many others were very near their peak seasons. Sure there is probably some amount of catching lightning in a bottle and the higher tide lifting everyone, but I refuse to think it was completely random. I also think that Coach Peter Laviolette was the driver of the player surges and the team’s success.
Laviolette had that swagger and confidence to him, and it was contagious. And I think he was a master at least short-term of managing professional hockey players as people and getting the absolute best out of them. The rest of his career supports that. In his first NHL coaching stint, he managed to get an Islanders team into the playoffs twice before surprisingly being shown the door. His run with the Hurricanes was also short, but boy was it magical. He then took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals and within a couple wins of another championship. His work in Nashville is still in process and has not yielded a deep playoff run, but they were 1 of the best teams in the regular season in 2014-15.
Put more simply, I think Peter Laviolotte has a knack for stepping into an NHL coaching situation and fairly quickly finding a way to get his players to reach a higher level. Some would say that he has trouble maintaining it, but I think few would dispute the fact that he has had some success boosting it.
In the name of time, I am going to skip Paul Maurice who has coached the Canes so much that there are actually different eras to his Hurricanes hockey time. 🙂
When you jump to the 2 most recent Hurricanes coaches who have struggled, I think there is a striking contrast. Kirk Muller was deemed to be a good hockey guy. He came from great pedigree as a successful player and leader. And he seemed smart enough on the way in the door.
But in a short tenure of less than 3 seasons, he saw multiple players hit slumps and literally never recover in some cases:
Tuomo Ruutu. He had recently scored 57 points but before Muller left Ruutu had sunk to healthy scratch level and was traded to New Jersey for virtually nothing with the Hurricanes maintainin part of his salary.
Jussi Jokinen. He too had been a 50ish point player and fan favorite with the Canes before falling off a scoring cliff under Muller and being traded for nothing just to get him off the books.
Eric Staal. He scored a bunch in the lockout-shortened season, but then saw his scoring dip significantly to below 70 points (he had 61) for the first time in his career.
Tim Gleason. He played his way down from being a top 4 defenseman to being a trade discard to Toronto.
There are always multiple factors when a player is not performing, but Kirk Muller seemed to have a high number of players who had recently had pretty solid seasons have significant fall-offs in terms of production.
Bill Peters also entered with high hopes. He was quickly credited with being smart, a hard worker, having attention to detail, coming from a winning organization and having success at lower levels. I think it is fair to say that he inherited a team that was a bit shallow in terms of top-end talent, and the team was coming off a playoff miss. And only a little more than 1 season into the job, maybe it is too early to start making broad assessments of Bill Peters.
But I think the volume of players who should be doing more is at least something to keep an eye on if not downright alarming.
In the 2014-15 season, Eric Staal plummeted to 54 points from a disappointing low of 61 the previous season. Jeff Skinner sank to a borderline third-line 31 points in 77 games. Jordan Staal has not been able to reach previous scoring levels despite entering his prime. Alexander Semin’s 19 points in 57 games was bad enough that the team decided to buy him out. If you made a list of the Canes top 4 offensive players entering the 2014-15 season, would that have been the list? And every 1 of them significantly underperformed expectations.
Is it system? Is it the players themselves and outside of anything that Bill Peters can control?
Is the importance of people management and motivation in play?
I will leave that for people to ponder as we watch the 2015-16 season continue to unfold.