This was a breaking point for Bill Peters. You can mark down February 4 as the day he lost faith in his roster, in this group as currently constituted. The Carolina Hurricanes coach has had enough. Now he, like many of the 11,614 in the stands for Sunday’s 3-1 defenestration at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, is demanding change.
Welcome to the party, pal.
Smiling sardonically at times, but clearly seething and steaming, Peters ripped his team up and down afterward, making justifiable exceptions for only Sebastian Aho and Brock McGinn. The coach’s even demeanor only underlined his anger. This group has lost his confidence. It has apparently let him down for the last time. And what a letdown it was.
“That wasn’t a lot of fun, actually,” Peters said. “Obviously this group has been together, this lineup’s been together for a little while now. Maybe there’s some complacency there. … We can’t put that group out again after that. It’s unacceptable. They let each other down, too, in the room. That’s not right.”
And: “Is it a character issue? I don’t know if it’s a character issue or what it is. Whether we’re in the eighth spot or the ninth spot or the first, that effort today is unacceptable, period. The effort, the intensity that we played at was similar to probably something you’d see in a neutral site in September.”
Peters promised changes – “It’ll be different Tuesday,” he said – but that’s up to the general manager. This team has called out for some kind of reinforcements since December, whether from Charlotte or somewhere else, but Ron Francis has sat idle, allowing weaknesses to become bad habits and a lack of accountability to fester.
Two nights after getting outskated by the Detroit Red Wings, the Hurricanes were outmuscled by the Sharks. If you’re not fast and you’re not strong, what are you? Francis inherited a team with no personality and no identity and hasn’t fixed either. A born winner like Justin Williams walks in, gets snubbed for a leadership role in favor of a couple guys who have never won anything and gets swamped by the tidal wave of complacency.
Elias Lindholm had a chance to light up a San Jose player into the end boards with the Hurricanes down 3-1 in the second. He led tamely with his posterior instead. Seconds later, McGinn plastered Brendan Dillon into the side boards and gave him a snide little shove on the ice. The building came alive even before their fight. Which one of those guys do you want to pay to watch?
Better, question, how many of these guys would you really pay to watch? McGinn and Williams and Aho for sure. Jordan Staal gives an honest effort, even if he’s asked to do too much. Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are legit.
Jeff Skinner is a wreck, and whether that’s his fault or Peters’ fault, there’s plenty of blame to share. All-Star Noah Hanifin is lost. Alleged co-captain Justin Faulk has been a non-factor for years. Francis’ hand-picked No. 1 goalie is an abject disaster. If new owner Tom Dundon wants to win over fans, he ought to be handing out $5 bills at the end of every flaccid Victor Rask shift in apology – and there are only four more years to run on the long-term contract Francis gave Rask for no apparent reason.
Hanifin, Skinner, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Derek Ryan all ended up on the boards to Cam Ward’s left on San Jose’s second goal, all within arm’s reach of each other. Chris Tierney, in the slot, had an eternity to pick his spot once the puck got to him to make it 2-1. At least those four were in the defensive zone, as humiliating as it may have been to all be in the frame at the same time; Lindholm arrived later, presumably delayed by weather or something.
Meanwhile, Warren Foegele and Valentin Zykov and Aleski Saarela pile up the goals in Charlotte. Yes, there’s a big difference between scoring goals in the AHL and scoring goals in the NHL, and Zykov isn’t exactly quick, but can they do any worse than this mess? Aren’t Roland McKeown or Trevor Carrick better options on the back end than another night of watching Hanifin and van Riemsdyk and Haydn Fleury wander?
“I hope there’s going to be some different people in the lineup, and I hope they bring some energy and some passion and some pride, because that group today wasn’t good enough,” Peters said. “I don’t know what to tell you. There were some guys who were very light on the puck. Very light.”
In the bigger picture, selling this low on Skinner or Faulk would be a mistake, but that doesn’t seem like a scenario worth worrying about anyway with a general manager who has yet to make a player-for-player trade in four seasons. The time for tweaks was early December and the time for a big deal was in the summer, to push this team over the top. Francis added a backup goalie, a third-pairing defenseman, a third-line winger and two fourth-line forwards – only one of whom has impressed.
It’s fine to build patiently through the draft – and Francis has done a good job of that – but it’s going to be two years before Martin Necas is the contributor at center the Hurricanes need him to be now. Are fans supposed to be, to quote the former owner, “even more patient?”
And what about Peters? It’s fair to ask whether this group has tuned him out, but it’s equally fair to wonder whether anyone could get more out of this mess on a night-to-night basis. Peters knows as well as anyone it’s easier to fire the coach than the players, but he has been trying to play a losing hand and Sunday he finally stopped pretending it’s anything but.
This team is fundamentally broken. It has been for years, full of too many players who accept losing. After all these years of it with this core group, it’s impossible to come to any other conclusion. When you build around players like that, as Francis has, this is what you get: a team that soils itself whenever it gets a sniff of the playoff bubble.
“We definitely know what’s at stake,” Staal said. “It’s big points, every game. I don’t know if it’s the pressure or not, but at some point, something’s got to give here in Carolina.”
Something gave Sunday; it snapped inside the coach. Peters is right to be angry, but many of the players in the room are what they are. They showed that long ago. Peters has finally come to realize, too late probably, they’re not going to change. His anger should be directed upward, not downward.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock