Regardless of who’s still around Monday afternoon after the NHL trade deadline passes, no matter whether the Carolina Hurricanes pick up any ground in the playoff chase by then or fall farther off the pace, there’s one certainty about the Hurricanes going forward. It’s the coach.
The roster may or may not look different in a few days, but at this point in the season there’s no question that Bill Peters has the team moving in the right direction. With a little more skill or better goaltending, the Hurricanes might be in the thick of the postseason picture thanks to the style and philosophy Peters has implemented.
As it is, their slim chances of making the playoffs are thinner still after Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins, coming on the heels of Thursday’s 3-1 loss at the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs. Still, Peters has worked miracles to even get the Hurricanes in this position and may yet garner a coach-of-the-year vote or two.
At the moment, and it may not be true in a few days, Peters stands out as one of the three biggest ways Ron Francis has put his stamp on the Hurricanes in his almost-two seasons as general manager. Hiring Peters, buying out Alexander Semin and using his first draft pick on defenseman Hadyn Fleury are the moves that really distinguish Francis from his predecessor.
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Other than that, it’s easy to squint and see this team as still largely a Jim Rutherford creation, with 16 of the 24 roster players as holdovers from the previous regime. Since then, Francis has engineered a series of relatively minor moves that have tweaked but not reshaped the roster, with the acquisition of Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom having the most impact.
That may change dramatically soon, either this weekend or this summer, with eight contracts that expire after this season and Finnish junior star Sebastien Aho expected to join the team, but at the moment no decision Francis has made has had the same impact as hiring Peters in the summer of 2014.
Playing a tight, direct, compact game while maintaining possession and peppering the net with shots, the Hurricanes have put themselves in position to win more nights than not, Thursday included, and it’s easy to see now how future success will look for the Hurricanes. With Peters’ ideas fully ingrained, it’s just as easy to see why the meandering Semin, however skilled and creative or statistically significant, was such a poor fit for what Peters was trying to do in his first season.
Some of the ideas Peters brought with him were from the Detroit Red Wings, where he spent three seasons as an assistant to Mike Babcock; others were his own from his time as a head coach in the AHL and junior hockey. Whatever their origin, it’s clear at this point Peters has the Hurricanes going in the right direction, which should temper some of the frustration if this season once again comes to an early end in early April.
That certainly appears to be the way things are heading. On top of the two losses in 48 hours, Andrej Nestrasil, one-third of their best line, is out indefinitely after getting hurt Thursday, while Justin Faulk has missed eight of the past nine games.
With all that, the imperative Monday is to do whatever it takes to make this team better next season, and the season after that, and the season after that. That’s the only way to play it now.
The system and ethos are in place. The coach has seen to that. Now it’s up to Francis to give Peters the right players to make it all click. This deadline is a great opportunity to help that process along, but whether Francis acts before Monday or not, this season has established that Peters has built a foundation for future success.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock