RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis knows almost everybody who’s anybody in professional hockey, but had not met Bill Peters until last month.
That Francis hired Peters to be the Hurricanes’ new head coach says a lot about Peters’ personality, his hockey background and his vision for guiding an NHL team.
Peters, 49, has not been an NHL head coach. But Francis, in formally introducing Peters as coach Friday in a news conference at PNC Arena, said it took only a couple of meetings with the Detroit Red Wings assistant coach to be convinced he was the right man to build the Hurricanes back into a Stanley Cup playoff team.
“This is a passionate individual,” Francis said. “He wants to win. He wants to turn this thing and he wants to be successful. For me, we need to kind of tweak our culture here and get it back to where we had it when things were running smooth and successful.
“I think he’s the guy to help do that. He’s going to hold guys accountable. He’s going to demand that they come and compete every night. I think our fans deserve to see that every night, a team that’s working hard.”
Francis said Peters was given a three-year contract, although financial terms were not disclosed. Rod Brind’Amour, a former Canes captain and assistant coach, will be on Peters’ staff and should be behind the bench next season.
“We know what our challenges are,” said Peters, who was generally serious during Friday’s appearance in a small dining room at the arena. “We’re going to set the bar high and we’re going to give our fans something they can be proud of and want to watch each and every night.”
Peters is the fourth head coach since the franchise moved to North Carolina in 1997 and the third in the past five seasons. The Canes won the Stanley Cup in 2006, but have made the playoffs just once since then, in 2009, reaching the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals.
The Canes finished seventh in the eight-team Metropolitan Division last season and were 10 points out of playoff position. They have the seventh overall pick in next week’s NHL draft.
The Canes had trouble scoring goals. They had trouble with the power play. They had a mediocre home record.
A binder and a PowerPoint
In coaching searches, there are good first impressions and there are great ones. From all accounts, Peters made a great one.
Francis flew to Detroit last month with former Canes GM and president Jim Rutherford to meet with team owner Peter Karmanos Jr. While in Detroit, Francis set up a May 20 interview with Peters, an assistant the past three years on Mike Babcock’s Red Wings staff.
Francis, conducting his first coaching search as a GM, said he and assistant general manager Mike Vellucci had a sheet of questions prepared for Peters.
“By the third question the sheet was away and it was a dialogue,” Francis said. “He came in with a binder and broke everything down. He kind of led his portion of the interview.”
As Peters, who is known for his organizational skills, put it, “I was ready to go.”
In a second interview with the Canes’ management team, Francis said, “He not only had a binder but a PowerPoint. This is an extremely detailed individual.”
Carolina wasn’t the only team given permission by the Red Wings to talk to Peters. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Florida Panthers also were believed to be interested.
Francis said the Canes interviewed 10 people and pared the list to three, without naming the other two finalists. He also said there probably was some overlap of candidates with the Penguins, who hired Rutherford as general manager on June 6.
Vellucci, hired as an assistant general manager by Francis, had gotten to know Peters while Vellucci was coach of the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. The Whalers, owned by Karmanos, play in Plymouth, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. Vellucci said Peters would drop by Whalers practice from time to time to observe and talk.
“He’s just a good hockey man,” Vellucci said.
Blueprint for success
Peters already has set three team priorities for next season, none of which will surprise Hurricanes fans. The first is to improve the power play. The second is a better start to games, and the third to improve the Canes’ record on home ice, where they were a disappointing 18-17-6 last season.
The Canes have long had a problem scoring goals with the extra man and regularly fell behind early in games last season.
“Those are three things we flat-out have to fix to be successful,” Peters said. “We have to be a 60-minute team that has a good power play (and) and we have to be a harder team to play against here in Raleigh.”
Had Carolina been marginally better in each of those three areas this past season, the Canes could have slipped into the playoffs. Instead, Carolina finished 36-35-11 and out of the playoffs for a fifth straight year, costing Kirk Muller his job as coach.
Peters said he was doing his own “due diligence” and analyzing the rosters of teams interested in him. He said he liked the Canes’ depth at center and the top defensive pairing of Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera. There were a lot of good “pieces,” he said, to build around.
“I love intelligent players who compete hard,” Peters said. “And then if they have skill, that skill will come out.”
As for player accountability, Peters said, “I have the ultimate hammer as a coach and the hammer is ice time.”
Francis called Peters a good hockey teacher, and Peters has developed players on the junior hockey and American Hockey League level. The Three Hills, Alberta, native also was an assistant for Babcock with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, taking over as Chiefs head coach in 2005 and leading them to a Memorial Cup title in 2008.
Hired by the Chicago Blackhawks to coach the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, he worked with eight players who helped the Blackhawks win Stanley Cup titles in 2010 and 2013.
Peters isn’t all about hockey. He said he enjoys college basketball and attended Gonzaga games while coaching in Spokane. He likes outdoor activities, saying he and his family – wife Denise and children Aleze and Ayden – water ski and will spend time at local lakes.
But it’s hockey for now. Peters said he would soon be on the phone to talk individually with the Canes players. He knows one of them already – forward Drayson Bowman played for Peters with the Chiefs.
“We’ve got lots of good, quality players here,” Peters said. “We’ve just got to give them a little bit of guidance, let them know what’s negotiable. The work ethic part of it is not negotiable.
“You look around the league at any team that’s any good, they’re the hardest working teams in the league. So that’s where it starts.”
Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip