With a new contract extension signed and more than two months left until the start of the NHL season, Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters finally had a chance to laugh and relax Wednesday.
“The team’s getting younger – but I’m getting older, just to make sure we’re clear on that,” he said lightheartedly to a question about the Hurricanes’ ongoing youth movement.
Peters’ two-year contract extension, announced Wednesday morning by Hurricanes, will keep him in Raleigh through at least the 2018-19 season. He already had one year remaining on a three-year contract signed when he replaced Kirk Muller as head coach in 2014.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Peters and general manager Ron Francis spoke of the progress that the team has made in Peters’ two seasons and the momentum that’s created entering this fall’s 2016-17 campaign.
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“We talked at the initial press conference about changing the culture – not easy to do, but we think we’ve taken steps in that direction,” Francis said.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a quick turnaround,” Peters added. “Obviously it takes time...but we’re realistic. We’ve accumulated lots of assets. I just like the direction we’re headed in and we’re headed in that direction for a long period of time.”
In 2014-15, the Hurricanes didn’t earn their first win under Peters until his ninth game behind the bench and eventually limped to a 30-41-11 record, ranking 14th in the 16-team Eastern Conference.
But this past season, behind the emergence of a trio of rookie defensemen and a resurgent campaign from forward Jeff Skinner, Carolina remained in the thick of the playoff race until the season’s final weeks. Their 35-31-16 record marked a 15-point improvement over the year before – the third-largest increase in the league – even though the team’s playoff drought nonetheless extended to seven consecutive years.
Just seven players from the Hurricanes’ 2014-15 season opener remain on the roster, and Peters said the addition of five new forwards this summer further increases his optimism for the future.
“The team’s getting better, getting younger, getting deeper,” he said. “The Teravainens and the Ahos...and some of these other guys coming on board is exciting for me and made it an easy decision to sign an extension.”
If Peters remains with the organization through the duration of his new contract, his five seasons of experience will make him the longest-tenured Hurricanes coach since Paul Maurice’s first stint with the team ended in 2003. Peters’ predecessor, Muller, was fired after three years with the team in one of Francis’s first decisions as GM.
“If you’re constantly changing over guys, in a lot of ways you go back to square one – the system is a different structure, the players have to retrain themselves,” Francis said. “I don’t think there’s any reason, if you have a good coach, that he can’t be with the organization a long time, and that’s what we have in Bill.”
Francis added that he and Peters discussed a number of options but that the two-year extension ensured neither side would potentially leave money on the table in the future. He has not yet begun negotiations with assistant coaches Rod Brind’Amour and Steve Smith.
For Peters, inking the new deal provides some time for fun before his duties as a Team Canada assistant at the World Cup of Hockey begin in September.
Having just returned from a trip to British Columbia, Peters – sporting a noticeable summer tan – will leave again this weekend with his family for a deep-sea fishing trip at Cape Hatteras.
“My family loves (the extension). If it was up to them, it would be a longer deal,” he joked to a chorus of laughter.