RALEIGH — Rod Brind’Amour bled orange for 690 regular season and playoff games with the Philadelphia Flyers, so being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 23, 2000, was a crushing blow.
Nearly 18½ years later, Brind’Amour would have been much more heartbroken if he had not been given the chance to lead the franchise back to the level he guided it to in 2006 when he captained the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup.
“This is obviously a job, but it means more to me,” Brind’Amour said after being named the new coach of the Hurricanes at a Wednesday press conference. “This is my town. I live here, I feel like a connection to this community.”
It was that connection — the risk that Brind’Amour could potentially be giving all that away if he fails to succeed where others before him have failed — that led Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon to see the former captain and assistant coach as the clear-cut answer to lead the team he bought in early 2018.
“We talked a lot about he’s got a good life here, he’s well respected, and the risk that he’s taking with his reputation and his legacy is real,” Dundon said. “The fact that you have some of those stakes that are maybe different than someone else who would just show up here and could leave, and still believes he can do it, knows he can do it, that made me feel good.”
Brind’Amour has been admired from afar by most who watch and know hockey. A determined player who was as much a threat defensively (he won the Selke Trophy in back-to-back years in Carolina) — as offensively (503 goals, 792 assists and 1,295 points in a combined 1,643 regular season and playoff games). But Dundon and Don Waddell — who was also officially named general manager during the press conference — have learned over time there’s more to Brind’Amour than his on-ice resume.
“You watch him on the ice, and I didn’t realize — I knew he was a leader, this Captain America guy,” Waddell said. “But honestly, the thing I’m most impressed with is how good of a person he is. The way he treats people, you know?
“I’ve watched him leave out of rinks here after pretty tough nights and sign little kids autographs. I know it’s an easy thing to hear, but I’ve watched a lot of great players not do that.”
Dundon said he came to realize Brind’Amour was the best asset the team had after he purchased it.
“Everything I think the world should be, everything I think about the way people should act, the way people should treat other people, the way they should lead — this man does it,” Dundon said.
Brind’Amour replaces Bill Peters, the coach he assisted for four seasons before Peters opted out of the final year of his contract and took the head job in Calgary. Assistant coach Steve Smith and goalie coach Mike Bales will both return, with Brind’Amour saying he’d find any other assistants he feels would help him deliver his message of accountability and hard work.
“I think the one thing that’s going to help me a lot is you can’t fool me,” Brind’Amour said. “When you go in the shot lane and you kind of get out of the way, I notice that. I’ve been there, I’ve probably done it myself once or twice. And so I think that that will get through to the team pretty quick.”
And Brind’Amour made it clear that Justin Williams — his former teammate from the 2006 team who was passed over last season for a letter in Peters’ decision to name Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal co-captains and give the lone “A” to Jeff Skinner — will be integral in implementing his plan.
“There’s no secret I think the world of Justin,” Brind’Amour said as Williams looked on during a press conference loaded with former teammates. “As a player, as a person first and foremost. He’s what — he is a Hurricane. He’s what we are all about.”
The new coach added, “If we had 20 of that, we’d be slow, but we would win. We would win. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Without coming out and saying it, Brind’Amour hinted Williams will not be deprived of a letter again, and with the coach’s promise to have just one “C,” Williams is the odds-on favorite.
“Well, he was our leader,” Brind’Amour said.
So the Hurricanes will gamble their immediate future by betting on the past, even if the wager doesn’t include departed GM and franchise legend Ron Francis.
It’s a job that will start and end with the Hurricanes attempting to end a nine-season playoff drought — a goal that is needed to be reached but Brind’Amour said wasn’t lofty enough.
“For whatever reason, our expectations have fallen a little bit here, and we need to raise those,” Brind’Amour said.