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Underestimate Hurricanes' Rod Brind'Amour at your peril

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour’s career in pictures

Rod Brind'Amour has been named the new Carolina Hurricanes coach. Here are photos from the Hall of Fame player's long and storied career for the Canes.
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Rod Brind'Amour has been named the new Carolina Hurricanes coach. Here are photos from the Hall of Fame player's long and storied career for the Canes.

The names tumble and bounce off one another like dice in a cup. When Rod Brind'Amour was named captain of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2005, he replaced Ron Francis in that role. Brind'Amour was a no-brainer for the job, but even then, there were no guarantees he would be successful – let alone as successful as he eventually was.

Thirteen years later, with both of their jerseys honored in the rafters, with Francis deposed as general manager and the coach to whom he yoked his legacy having fled the scene, Brind'Amour again steps to the fore, in somewhat less of a sure thing.

Brind'Amour's elevation to head coach sets the merry-go-round of famous names spinning again, with all the associated perils and pitfalls, but if there's anything to be learned from Brind'Amour's tenure with the team, it's not to sell him short.

There will be understandable concern that he's the third straight Hurricanes coaching hire who has never been an NHL head coach, and neither of his predecessors made the playoffs. (Would there have been the same concern if the Hurricanes had hired Jim Montgomery from the University of Denver , who unlike Brind'Amour bore the “hot young coach” imprimatur, instead of the Dallas Stars?)

There will be understandable concern that Brind'Amour is tainted by his association with the perpetual frustrations of the Bill Peters' regime – most notably the consistently anemic power play, but the very un-Brind'Amour-esque lack of gumption and accountability as well.

And there will be understandable concern that the Hurricanes are going to run out of franchise legends in good standing at some point if they keep funneling them into the maw like this, desperate to break the playoff drought that has undone so many of the good works that Francis and Brind'Amour did on the ice.

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Carolina Hurricanes (10) Ron Francis, and teammate (17) Rod Brind'Amour accept the Prince of Wales trophy after they defeated Toronto 2-1 in overtime to win the Eastern Conference Championship on May 28, 2002 at the Air Canada Center. Robert Willett 2002 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

These are all valid concerns. They may, in the end, prove correct. And still, there's enough about Brind'Amour's history – and particularly his promotion to captain – to outweigh them.

When Francis was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline in 2004, Brind'Amour was a logical candidate to replace him, but almost by default. To that point, he had been primarily a leader by example, first on the ice and last off of it, the exemplar of effort in the weight room. It was easy to wonder whether Brind'Amour was the type of leader who was best in a supplementary role. (Glen Wesley, a perpetual alternate captain, excelled at that.)

Rod Brind'Amour, the captain of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, reflects on the team's 2006 run to the Stanley Cup championship.

There was no sign of the command Brind'Amour would eventually exert, his ability to connect with his teammates on an individual level, his impeccable sense of when to speak – and when not to speak. This would all become clear the next season, even before a postseason when his leadership truly shined.

But Brind'Amour, understanding the dynamics of leadership, whether intentionally or innately, had deferred to Francis, respecting his role, allowing the captain to set that tone. Given a chance to do it himself, Brind'Amour flourished.

Former Carolina Hurricanes star Rod Brind'Amour, the captain of the 2006 Stanley Cup champions and now a Canes assistant coach, talks about joining Ron Francis in the Hall of Fame.

The same was true under Peters. Brind'Amour was responsible for the power play, yes, but was still operating under Peters' direction. He could communicate with the players informally, but managing the locker room and handling the captains was Peters' job, and for Brind'Amour to interfere would undercut the head coach's authority. As was the case under Francis, some of Brind'Amour's unique talents were impinged under Peters by the nature of his role. That was obvious to those who know him best.

"Just because you're an assistant coach, you have your opinions, but the head coach has his and obviously you have to respect that," former Brind'Amour teammate and current Hurricanes player Justin Williams said. "At the end of the day, the head coach's system is the one that gets installed. You have to toe the company line, teach the system that the head coach feels gives the team the best opportunity to win. Sometimes that means putting what you think off to the side.”

So yes, there are risks here. Brind'Amour is an easy choice for new owner Tom Dundon, someone willing to take the job on the owner's terms. But that does not mean he is the wrong choice.

It was fair to question whether Brind'Amour was the right choice for captain, and he turned out to be one of the best ever to do that job. (One that remains criminally unacknowledged: Already denied the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, he continues to be overlooked by the Hockey Hall of Fame as well.)

It's fair to question whether Brind'Amour is the right choice for coach, but underestimate him at your peril. When given the responsibility to lead, and the autonomy to do it his way, he has yet to fail.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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