Canes back leader

The coach and the GM say sitting Rod Brind'Amour was a one-game deal, not a sign the captain is under siege.

Staff writerDecember 9, 2009 

Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said it was a hockey decision, nothing more or less.

General manager Jim Rutherford said not to read too much into it, that no long-standing decisions had been reached.

But making team captain Rod Brind'Amour a healthy scratch Monday night for the Pittsburgh Penguins game has led to questions about his future with the team. Was it purely a one-game thing? Or was it the first step toward Brind'Amour possibly giving up his captaincy, even considering retirement?

Rutherford said Tuesday he had not talked with Brind'Amour about giving up the "C" or ending a 21-year career.

"There have been no discussions on any change in his status," Rutherford said. "When a player like Rod is not in the lineup, it's an issue and people talk about it, but we will take it one game, one week at a time.

"It's a tough time in a player's career, and possibly a Hall of Fame career, when a player does not play every game. At some point in the not-too-distant future, he and I will talk. ... At some point, we will have a discussion about what this means and how Rod is handling it and dealing with it."

Since being traded to Carolina from the Philadelphia Flyers in January 2000, Brind'Amour had not been a healthy extra for a game. He was designated the team captain before the 2005-06 season and was the quintessential leader as the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup that year.

Brind'Amour, 39, was slowed by knee surgery early last season and was held out of two games in February because of a groin injury. Once back in the lineup, he picked up his productivity and helped the Hurricanes reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

"He took a little break and was real good in the second half of the season," Rutherford said.

But Brind'Amour, a former Selke Trophy winner as the league's best defensive forward, finished at minus-23 last season in the plus/minus ratings, near the bottom of the NHL. He is at minus-19 after 28 games this season, the worst rating in the league.

Brind'Amour had 13 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time Saturday in the Canes' 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks at the RBC Center. But forward Jussi Jokinen did not play because of an injury, and Jokinen's return for the Penguins game left the Canes with 13 healthy forwards -- and a decision for Maurice.

"It was not a long-term decision. It was strictly a hockey decision, for one game," Maurice said Tuesday. "We do what we think is right, and it's always based on performance."

The Canes won 3-2 at Mellon Arena. Maurice said he had not decided if Brind'Amour would again be a scratch tonight against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.

"It's never easy to sit out any player," Maurice said. "You ask your players to prepare physically and mentally for games, and at no point has anyone said, 'Roddy's not doing that.' He does everything he can to prepare.

"Jussi [Jokinen] was ready to go and get back in the lineup. We had a pool of two or three candidates of who might come out. But it's not like a decision was made Roddy's coming out the rest of the year."

Brind'Amour took the decision "like everything else he has handled - like a true professional," Maurice said.

Rutherford had early-week meetings in Raleigh and did not accompany the team to Pittsburgh or New Jersey.

"I have known Rod for a long time and have a lot of respect for him," he said. "I do not know where this is going. We'll have to see over time if this is the way it keeps going, and he's not playing. It's a tough time."

The victory in Pittsburgh was the Hurricanes' first on the road this season. Carolina opened a 3-0 lead, then weathered a Penguins comeback, with goaltender Manny Legace making 30 saves.

Though Legace has been the winner the past two games, Maurice said Cam Ward will start in goal tonight. Ward, who was activated Tuesday from the long-term injured reserve list, has been out since Nov. 7, when he was cut near the left knee by the skate of Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"Cam's ready, and we need to get him in game form," Maurice said.

The Canes on Monday placed goaltender Michael Leighton on waivers. Leighton cleared waivers Tuesday, but Maurice said Legace will be Ward's backup.

"This is the first time in my career that I've had to sit back and watch for a while," Ward said. "You get hungry, just sitting there watching. You want to be out there, back out on the ice and help contribute with the guys."

Ward missed three games in March 2007 after a leg laceration. This one was more serious.

"It's hurt me more being forced to the sidelines and watch from the dressing room," Ward said. "When I play, I just need to relax and play my game. I don't want to be overanxious where I'm too excited or looking around too much. Just do my thing."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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