RALEIGH — Rod Brind’Amour doesn’t want to be called “coach.”
“The only time I ever called someone ‘coach’ was when I didn’t know their name,” the now 48-year-old joked after he was given that title by owner Tom Dundon back in May.
But to Dundon, new GM Don Waddell and many in and around the Hurricanes organization, it was the name Brind’Amour that became the obvious choice to replace the departed Bill Peters and carry out a culture change centered on accountability.
“Everything I think about the way people should act, the way people should treat other people, the way they should lead,” said Dundon at that news conference, with a nudge of his head in Brind’Amour’s direction, “this man does it.”
In just over eight months, Dundon has ripped off many of the Band-Aids of Hurricanes’ past, hoping that he heals more wounds than the new ones he has inflicted. While Dundon has embraced the team’s past as the Whalers, he also jettisoned its two most recognizable figures.
First, the longtime marriage to Ron Francis, a Hall of Fame player who spent the majority of his playing career with the franchise in both Hartford and Carolina and ascended to general manager, ended in what was can best be described as irreconcilable differences when he was first demoted as GM in March and then let go altogether a month and a half later.
Then fellow Hall of Famer Chuck Kaiton, the only radio voice Whalers and Hurricanes fans had ever had, departed after the sides couldn’t come to terms on a new contract. It was a bottom-line move for Dundon: the radio broadcast loses money, and Kaiton was its big-tag item.
The new regime also parted ways with goaltender Cam Ward, ending the playing ties to the Stanley Cup-winning team from 2006 with two exceptions: Brind’Amour and his former linemate Justin Williams, who returned last season after winning two more titles in Los Angeles and a stint in Washington.
“What better way to start with than to have a consummate pro and guy who’s going to work his butt off,” Williams said of Brind’Amour, an assistant with the Hurricanes the past seven seasons. “He worked his butt off playing hockey, and he’s going to work his butt off off the ice as well.”
The message of perseverance, accountability and dedication — Brind’Amour, Williams, Dundon and anyone with the new-look Hurricanes say — is supported from the very top of the organization down.
The split rosters for training camp, which truly begins Friday when the players hit the ice, are called Team Grit and Team Grind, a nod to the Hurricanes’ plan to be harder to play against and, as Williams puts it, become “relevant again.”
No one embodies the image of grit and grind more than Brind’Amour, who made a playing career out of outworking opponents and has the battle scars of a medieval knight to show for it.
Make no mistake, the Hurricanes are still ahead of much of the pack in the analytics movement — they shrugged off concerns about defenseman Dougie Hamilton’s character to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade that brought him and Micheal Ferland from Calgary for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm — but also determined Jeff Skinner’s lack of defensive commitment was reason enough to ship out a three-time 30-goal scorer for mostly unknown futures.
“It’s been too much of average for too long, and things change when things don’t work,” Jordan Staal, a co-captain last season, said. “So, unfortunately, it was a great player like Jeff that got moved.”
The team is pinning much of its expectations on two of hockey’s top prospects: 2017 first-round draft choice Martin Necas and 2018 second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov. The company line is both will be very good — even great — players down the line, and they can’t and shouldn’t be expected to carry the load and lead the Hurricanes back to the postseason in the spring.
That doesn’t mean they’re not important to the here and now.
“For us to be a great team, they’re going to have to be good players for us,” Williams said. “We know that.”
In a locker room full of new faces and — for the first time in franchise history — a hands-on owner watching, the Hurricanes enter camp with hope and possibilities. And their coach isn’t willing to wait for success.
“Patience,” Brind’Amour said, adding an exasperated sigh and grimace, “I’m not a very patient person. I didn’t take the job not to win or try to win or expect to win.
“Maybe I need to be a little more patient. I don’t know. We’ll see how that works out.”