The 2017-18 campaign for the Carolina Hurricanes wrapped up with a bittersweet 3-2 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the victory, the Hurricanes finished 6th in the division, missing the postseason, for the 9th season in a row, by 14 points. Four months into his tenure as the team’s owner, Tom Dundon had a lot of work to do.
The first domino to fall was Bill Peters. About two weeks after the season finale, Peters resigned from his position as the team’s head coach to sign with Calgary in the same position. His time with the Carolina Hurricanes was mediocre at best, finishing 137-38-35 in four seasons and never climbing above 6th in the division. The team would continue its management shake-up by removing Ron Francis from his position as the President of Hockey Operations just over a month after the title of General Manager was removed.
Dundon wasted little time naming their replacements. On May 8, the team announced Hurricanes legend Rod Brind’Amour as the next head coach and Don Waddell as the acting general manager. Brind’Amour’s importance to the Carolina Hurricanes goes without question, winning the Selke Award twice and captaining the 2005-06 team to the only Stanley Cup victory in franchise history during his ten seasons in Raleigh. Waddell, familiar with the old Southeast Division, served several roles for the Atlanta Thrashers from 1998-2011, including a few stints as the interim head coach.
This new framework in management helped to set a standard throughout the organization. Brind’Amour’s mentality and style were clear, carrying over from his days as a player. A new benchmark needed to be met, and even though it was his first job as a head coach in the league, there was a clear expectation.
The Team on the Ice
Management wasn’t the only group to see some significant turnover. The product on the ice changed quite a bit in the months leading up to the season. Tom Dundon and Don Waddell needed to put a team together that would fit the new style under Rod Brind’Amour. They did it in just about every way imaginable.
Missing the postseason meant that the Hurricanes would be participating in the lottery for the 1st pick. However, with just a 3% chance of winning the lottery, they seemed unlikely to move that high. Call it a miracle or whatever you want to because the Hurricanes jumped nine spots to 2nd overall, blowing my mind and a lot of others, most likely.
With the 2nd overall pick, the Carolina Hurricanes selected winger Andrei Svechnikov from the Barrie Colts of the OHL. The consensus seemed to be that Svechnikov and Rasmus Dahlin would be going in the top two, and once Buffalo selected Dahlin, the pick was a no-brainer.
Once free agency began, it was clear that an era was ending. Franchise goalie Cam Ward hit the market for the first time after spending 13 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, setting just about every goaltending record for the franchise. Derek Ryan, Joakim Nordstrom, and Lee Stempniak were gone with him, among others.
As one door closed, another door opened for a few others. Their big move was signing defenseman Calvin de Haan to a four-year, $18.2 million contract. They also made a change in the net, adding Petr Mrazek on a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. The Hurricanes signed Saku Maenalanen and Greg McKegg to one-year deals to bolster their depth.
The organization shined in the trade market, something we’ve come to know and love five years later. They spread out the big news throughout the offseason. With the playoffs ongoing, the Hurricanes acquired Jordan Martinook from the Arizona Coyotes.
During the second day of the draft, the Hurricanes made a blockbuster move, sending former 1st round picks Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to the Calgary Flames for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and the signing rights to Adam Fox.
In early August, the team traded Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres for prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks. Skinner, the 2010 Calder Trophy winner, had been one of the most exciting players on the team for almost a decade after being taken in the 1st round in 2010.
In the lead-up to the season, the franchise decided that having co-captains was a lousy idea and named Justin Williams as the team’s captain for the season. Williams had never worn the “C” in the NHL but had been an integral part of several Stanley Cup-winning teams in his career. After re-joining the team the year prior, he was an easy choice to take over the captaincy.
The team didn’t even realize it needed the last piece to the puzzle until Scott Darling went down with an injury before the season opener. In need of another goalie, the team claimed Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs two days before the season began.
So, how did these moves affect the team moving forward?
Well, I’d say it went better than expected in both the short and long term.
In 2018-19, the new-look Carolina Hurricanes experienced some early growing pains. By the end of the season, they made one of the best one-for-one trades in franchise history, adopted a new moniker that would follow them the rest of the year, and was capped off with one of the best bench interview moments ever after Petr Mrazek backstopped a win over the New Jersey Devils on April 4 to clinch a Wild Card Spot and break the postseason drought. It also helped them dethrone the reigning Stanley Cup champs in the 1st round en route to an Eastern Conference Final appearance.
The new wave of momentum would continue in the following years, even with the world shutting down. The Hurricanes have made it to the postseason in the last five seasons, winning the division in the last three. Rod Brind’Amour has won the Jack Adams Award. Don Waddell has won the Jim Gregory. Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov have become household names. New franchise records are being set yearly. We even got to see hockey under the lights at Carter-Finlay Stadium. While the players on the ice might change, the culture surrounding the team hasn’t.
It has also led to an uptick in attendance as fans pile into PNC Arena for every home game. With this success also comes expectations. The fanbase expects the team to compete for a Stanley Cup every year; while it has eluded them, they seem closer and closer to achieving it.
The growth over the last five years has made the Carolina Hurricanes a destination for players. The fans, the coaches, and the results are a big part of that. All of that started with a few months in 2018 that would completely revitalize an organization struggling in more ways than one.
Maybe it was the significant jump at the lottery. Maybe it was the head coach. It could have been any number of things. All I know is that hockey in Raleigh is alive and thriving, and we should all be thankful.