RALEIGH — When Tom Dundon bought the Carolina Hurricanes, it didn’t take him long to make top-to-bottom changes in an organization that was closing in on a decade outside of the playoffs.
Ron Francis, the beloved franchise icon who went from player to assistant coach to executive, was relieved of his duties as general manager.
Other cornerstones of the organization, like Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton, TV play-by-play mainstay John Forslund and longtime assistant GM Brian Tatum, have either been shown the door, told their price tag was too high or decided to move on — or a combination of some, or all, of those factors.
The changes haven’t just been in the press box or front office.
Coach Bill Peters opted out of his contract following the 2017-18 season in what felt like an “I quit before you can fire me” exit. With Don Waddell ascending to general manager, the other big decision was who would succeed Peters.
Despite the deep weeding of many of the roots the organization had planted and nourished since moving to North Carolina in 1997, Dundon determined Rod Brind’Amour was the one pillar he couldn’t topple without bringing down the whole house.
And so Brind’Amour took the reins from Peters despite having no head coaching experience and only team-related mediocrity on his resume as an assistant.
Dundon’s revamped front office then started slashing at the roster. But unlike predecessor Peter Karmanos Jr., the owner’s cuts weren’t aimed at getting as close to the salary cap floor as possible. It was methodical and precise, using a combination of analytics, old-school scouting and forward-thinking roster construction that was built around one central figure: Brind’Amour.
Brind’Amour has made it clear in his three years as coach that the tarnish that had built on the team’s legacy as 2006 Stanley Cup champions needed polishing. His focus, as it was during his career, was on hard work, effort and accountability.
Fast forward three years, and it’s clear Brind’Amour & Co. didn’t see a lot of that in the group that was in front of them at the time. Much like the off-ice departures, the players who moved on did so for a variety of reasons.
Justin Faulk, Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin took a hard line on contract negotiations, and the team didn’t see as much value in those players as they (or perhaps their agents) did. Jeff Skinner was unceremoniously dumped to Buffalo. Cam Ward and, eventually, Scott Darling were replaced in goal.
They were just a few of the trim-the-fat moves made to a franchise mired in mediocrity.
Which brings us to Monday’s 5-2 win over the Predators in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. After all of the maneuvering and hard break-ups, the Hurricanes are among the Stanley Cup favorites thanks to Dundon’s commitment to Brind’Amour and the coach’s ethos.
Only six full-time players remain from the team Brind’Amour took over — an Original Six, if you will.
Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, the foundation of Carolina’s admired defense, were centerpieces of the win despite it being the first playoff game in two years and a day for Pesce and Slavin going from game-time decision to typical workhorse.
Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho are the epitome of the Finnish stereotype — hard-working and skilled players who put team first, a mindset that aligns perfectly with Brind’Amour’s creed.
Brock McGinn — who the coach called the toughest player he has seen since his playing days — played for the first time in more than six weeks and looked a lot like the player who scored the double-overtime winner in Game 7 two years ago in Washington.
And Jordan Staal, often maligned during Carolina’s Dark Ages for his hefty contract, scored two goals and continued the lead-by-example legacy set by both Francis and Brind’Amour when they wore the “C” in Raleigh.
While the Hurricanes have rebuilt from the ground up, those six — along with Brind’Amour — are many of the few who remain from a time not that long ago that didn’t seem so bright. It’s a bond at the center of Carolina’s success and hopes, one the coach recognizes as important.
“It always is when you kind of come through some lean times and are a part of changing,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s special, and that’s what we have here.
“And the new guys, too. They bought into that, and I think they appreciate where we’ve gone. The guys you mentioned are a huge part of that.”
The Hurricanes may have bottomed out three seasons ago, but the changes made and lessons learned have them where they wanted to be all along: with an unlimited ceiling.