It’s hard to imagine a team undergoing more change than the Carolina Hurricanes in the past year or so.
The Hurricanes had a new head coach, Rod Brind’Amour, and newly named general manager, Don Waddell. They had a new captain, Justin Williams. They underwent a sizable personnel makeover, with two new goalies. They reached the Stanley Cup playoffs, which was definitely a change.
But change is still in the air for the franchise. There are a number of expiring contracts, including those of longtime television announcers John Forslund and Tripp Tracy. There could be changes in the scouting staff, Waddell said Tuesday. The same could be true within the front office.
Brind’Amour said the coaching staff would remain the same. He also said he hoped “the group,” the team that played its way to the Eastern Conference finals, would remain unchanged as well.
“The biggest priority for me is to get back what we have. We don’t want to lose guys,” Brind’Amour said.
That would require the Canes re-sign goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, both due to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, and Waddell said the team would like to do that.
It also would require Williams to decide to return and sign a new contract with the team, rather than retiring after 18 NHL seasons and three Stanley Cup championships. Williams, 37, said Monday it was a decision he would make with his family after some time for reflection.
Brind’Amour lobbied Williams, a good friend and teammate on the Canes’ 2006 Cup champs, to sign with the Canes two years ago when Brind’Amour was an assistant coach. Asked Tuesday if he might again be a part of Williams’ decision-making process, he said, “I hope I don’t have to. But I may.”
The Canes had one of the lowest payrolls in the league last season and Brind’Amour is believed to be among the lowest-paid head coaches. Waddell noted contract negotiations with center Sebastian Aho and a possible extension for defenseman Justin Faulk could take a bite out of the team’s salary-cap space.
Aho and the team have expressed the desire for a long-term contract. Waddell said he hoped to get that done sooner rather than later and that talks could begin in the next few days with Aho’s agent.
“We’ll see where they’re at at this point,” Waddell said. “The end goal is we’re going to get him signed and I hope it’s not something we’re still here talking about in August and September.”
And Brind’Amour? He signed a three-year contract last year. Could he be in for an extension and salary increase after such a big first season?
“On the contract, knowing Roddy and knowing how we operate, he’s fine right now,” Waddell said.
In assessing Brind’Amour’s job performance, Waddell said, “The atmosphere, the preparation and what I witnessed in the locker room coming from the coach’s office and particularly from Rod is something I’ve never witnessed before. We didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about other teams. We worried about what we needed to do and how we could be better.”
Two Canes players underwent surgery Tuesday -- defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Jordan Martinook. Waddell said de Haan had right shoulder surgery in Cleveland and Martinook in Philadelphia for a procedure for a core muscle injury. De Haan is expected to need four to six months of recovery time while Martinook could be out four to six weeks, the team said. They join Trevor van Riemsdyk, who underwent shoulder surgery earlier this month and is expected to be ready for training camp.
The Canes went into the 2018-19 season hoping to be a playoff team but with a lot of question marks. As Brind’Amour said again Tuesday, the expectation level will be higher now.
“The challenge, and it’s a good challenge, is we’ve established ourselves as a hard-working team. We’re not going to sneak up anybody,” Brind’Amour said. “The challenge for us is we have to get better. We had a pretty nice year but we barely made it in (the playoffs), right? And we played about as good as we could have.
“The regular season to me was a huge success, the way we got in. That second half of the year was pretty special. And we did it the right way. It wasn’t because we’re over-talented. We just wanted it.”