Rod Brind’Amour took to the ice Friday morning to begin training camp, intense as usual, eyes straight ahead, ready to start preparing the Carolina Hurricanes for a new season.
Last season? A memory, albeit a good one for the Canes. For Brind’Amour, it was his first as an NHL head coach and it was rewarding. It ended in the Stanley Cup playoffs, in the Eastern Conference finals, with a franchise re-energized and hockey again the talk of the town in the springtime.
“It’s a whole new year and what’s done is done, and you’ve got to move on and we’ve got to find a way to get that much better,” Brind’Amour said Friday in a press conference after the two on-ice sessions.
For Brind’Amour, who turned 49 last month, there is much to build on and a certain peace of mind, even for a coach. A year ago, much was different. He had been an assistant coach with the Canes but never the one who had to answer -- to team owner Tom Dundon, to president and general manager Don Waddell, to Canes fans, to the media. To his players.
“You’re prepared but then you never know if you’re prepared, you know, because you haven’t done it,” Brind’Amour said in a recent N&O interview. “Have we got everything figured out organization-wise? Then you get through it and now it’s, ‘OK, that was fine.’ So at least you have a template for this year. You know if you stick with this plan it will work.”
The Canes began camp Friday with 51 players on the roster after adding defenseman Fredrik Claesson on a professional tryout contract They soon were down a defenseman as Chase Priskie, the former college standout the Canes signed as a free agent out of Quinnipiac, left the first session with an unspecified injury.
Brind’Amour’s first impressions of the start of camp?
“Smoother than last year,” he said Friday. “I liked it. Day one is kind of a introductory day for everybody, in a lot of ways. The first few days are a little bit generic but I thought the work ethic was good.”
Justin Faulk was one of the hardest workers, pushing himself in grueling skating drills that ended his session. The veteran defenseman has been the source of trade speculation this week, with various reports linking him to a deal involving the Anaheim Ducks.
The Canes have an oversupply of defensemen and Faulk is entering the final year of his contract before becoming an unrestricted free agent. With the team and player as yet unable to agree on a contract extension, Faulk’s name is being mentioned in trade scuttlebutt.
“It happens to pretty much everybody in the league at some point,” Faulk said, although again not commenting on the Anaheim reports. “You’ve still got to show up, right? I’m still part of this team.”
Brind’Amour gave Faulk an appreciative slap on the pads with his stick after the session.
“I didn’t expect anything different,” Brind’Amour said. “I understand the buzz around him but it’s business as usual for us. He’s here and I’m looking for a big year out of him. He’s come in here and done everything he’s supposed to do.”
Brind’Amour said being named the Canes coach in early May 2018 allowed him ample time to hire a staff, analyze players, sort through his lineup and fully gear up for the 2018-19 season. His easiest decision: making Justin Williams the team captain.
“I got lucky in that sense,” Brind’Amour said of the timing. “That’s really important for a coach, to get everything lined up. Now that I’ve gotten through it once, I know what to do a little different and what works.”
Brind’Amour’s system, which the Canes doggedly stuck to last season, worked. Carolina finished with 99 points, ending a frustrating playoff drought that stretched back to 2009 and was the longest in the league. The question now: can they make it back-to-back playoff years for the first time since 2001 and 2002?
As Brind’Amour noted, “The NHL is probably the tightest it’s ever been.”
While the Canes made some key offseason moves -- adding free-agent defenseman Jake Gardiner a week ago Friday -- other teams in the Eastern Conference did the same.
The New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, taking highly skilled forward Jack Hughes. They traded for defenseman P.K. Subban and signed veteran forward Wayne Simmonds.
“We saw last year what can happen when you get a lottery pick,” Brind’Amour said, noting the Canes winning the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft and taking forward Andrei Svechnikov. “Those things can instantly make your team better.”
When Brind’Amour looks at his roster, he sees a team with few open spots available as training camp began. Which is a good thing.
“The better you get as an organization the tougher it is to say jobs are open, because guys have already proven themselves,” Brind’Amour said. “Last year we had some open. This year it’s tighter.”
Williams, at 37, has “stepped away” from hockey and is not with the team, leaving a top-six forward slot to be won. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, after shoulder surgery, may not be ready for game action until early in the regular season. And there’s the competition at goaltender.
“The goalie situation will be the biggest thing we look at,” Brind’Amour said.
Canes center Jordan Staal said he didn’t expect Brind’Amour’s approach to change in his second year as head coach.
“We’re going to be one of the hardest working teams and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got every game,” Staal said. “That’s what Roddy wants. He demands that for sure.”