Luke DeCock

Future of the Hurricanes taking shape, and it's not what anyone expected

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 line about Don Waddell being promoted from interim to permanent general manager was buried in the press release about Rod Brind'Amour's elevation to head coach, without a headline or any fanfare of its own. Suddenly, it felt like 4:58 p.m. on a Friday, when such news is slipped quietly under the door on the way to the beach.

While there may be mixed emotions about Brind'Amour coaching the team – after Ron Francis' ultimately unsuccessful tenure as general manager, who wants to see another cherished name tarnished? – it'll be hard to find anyone beyond Tom Dundon who's genuinely excited about Waddell being named general manager.

Waddell's connections to the woebegone Atlanta Thrashers – a franchise the Hurricanes treated like a little brother for its entire existence, until the moving trucks rolled up and it disappeared to Canada, an all-too-frightening set of circumstances – would seem to be disqualifying in this market, but it's important to remember he's not really being handed any power. Just more work.

He isn't a general manager in the traditional hockey sense of the job; he has neither the final word nor total power over the hockey operation. Waddell knows how to do the job and has earned Dundon's trust, and that's all that's required or asked of him.

So the future of the Hurricanes has taken shape, and safe to say it's not what anyone would have expected in November, when the news broke that Peter Karmanos was finally close to selling the team.

You couldn't pull this group out of a hat.

There's the general manager who built a team that never won a single playoff game, not exactly a line anyone wants to highlight on their resume; a scouting savant whose resume has too many lines to highlight; an agent who burned out on the business; and a coach who is one of the most beloved players in franchise history and is risking his entire legacy on how he fares now.

Across the hockey world, Dundon is seen as an owner who doesn't want to pay the going rate and has been unable to convince the game's rising stars to join his new experiment. That's one perspective on it.

As far as Dundon is concerned, he has put together an executive team similar to those at the companies he has run, where he'll gather as much information as possible, listen to as many voices as possible, gather as many options as possible and then make the final decision himself. And without spending a fortune, either.

First there's Waddell, essentially an administrator: making trade calls and advising Dundon on hockey decisions, as opposed to presenting an owner with yes/no decisions like most general managers. Mike Vellucci, who has coached the Charlotte Checkers into the second round of the playoffs while overseeing player development, is still around as well.

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Rick Dudley, who took over for Waddell as general manager of the Thrashers way back when and swung the trades that built the core of the still-playing Winnipeg Jets, is one of the game's true characters. The nomadic Dudley is a born scout who will oversee player evaluation, which will operate hand-in-hand with the analytics department run by Eric Tulsky.

Paul Krepelka was a key part of one of the biggest agencies in hockey and a rising star in the business before he decided to sell his stake and walk away; he'll handle contract negotiations, working on the other side of the table from before.

And finally Rod Brind'Amour, about whose promotion to head coach much has already been said, but whose demeanor meshed instantly with the new owner. Neither one is much for small talk or social niceties.

It's an odd group for an odd operation. But if some hotshot young GM had come in and hired Dudley and Krepelka and Brind'Amour, would anyone question him? The optics of how Dundon handled the Francis firing and the very public general manager search were terrible, but the Hurricanes have ended up at a place which probably isn't far off from where anyone would have ended up.

The exception is Waddell. The team president was open about not wanting to be a general manager again and not wanting to be considered for this opening, but Dundon wore him down. It wouldn't be surprising if Waddell went back to being only president again at some point, if a GM candidate does come along that catches Dundon's eye.

Either way, the group that will guide the Hurricanes into this new era is in place. These are Dundon's people now, and this is his team. The grand experiment is under way, and there's nothing less at stake than the future of the franchise.

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

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