Rod Brind'Amour knows what it's like to win a Stanley Cup in Carolina. As captain of the championship team in 2006, he was the first to lift the chalice up. Now, with three years under his belt as coach of the Hurricanes, Brind'Amour has signed a three-year extension with the hopes of bringing that glory back to Raleigh.
Getting to the top won't be easy of course, though Carolina is coming off a season that saw the Canes finish third overall in the NHL with 80 points in 56 games. Carolina's season ended at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who pushed aside the Canes after Brind'Amour's crew disposed of Nashville in the first round. Tampa is still playing and the Lightning offer an example of where the Canes want to be after an educational 2020-21 season.
"We learned a lot," Brind'Amour said. "If you're not learning from your failures, if you want to call them that, you're in big trouble. What we learned is that to beat the best team, you can't beat yourself – which I thought we did at times, especially in the Tampa series. And the margins are so tight. The teams that win the Stanley Cup are not making mistakes; they're comfortable when the game is uncomfortable. They stick with what they're doing and we got away from that."
The upshot is that Carolina's lineup still has a ton of potential, through rising stars such as Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
"We're still a bit of a young group in some ways," Brind'Amour said. "We've got a great leader in Jordan Staal and he's not a young guy, but our other guys are still learning."
All in all, it's not hard to look at what Carolina has put together and see a team that is very close. The defense corps is enviably mobile and talented, while there is plenty of offensive pop up front. If Nedeljkovic, a Calder Trophy finalist, proves to be the long-term answer in net, then you can't ask for much more from the roster. Having said that, one major piece is currently dangling outside the margins, in that the Canes have allowed defenseman Dougie Hamilton to speak with other teams on a potential sign-and-trade before the right-shot blueliner hits unrestricted free agency next month.
"The door is wide open here," said GM and president Don Waddell. "We love Dougie, he's been good for this franchise and we're certainly all hoping he comes back. But we also felt we didn't want to wait until July 28 to figure it out, so we got a head start on that."
Waddell did also acknowledge there was a "difference of opinion" when it came to earlier negotiations with Hamilton and his crew, but that is understandable in any contract situation.
Getting Brind'Amour under contract was a step in the right direction and according to the coach himself, he and Waddell had been on the same page all season. One of the few hurdles to overcome was making sure Brind'Amour's staff was also re-upped.
"We have a special group down here," Brind'Amour said. "For me to do this job to the best of my ability, it's important to have the right people around me. I know we have a great training staff, equipment people and coaches. That's why part of it took so long, is that we had a lot of people to figure out. We're at that point where we're pretty much done that and again, it was important to me to have great people around. That's why we have success down here."
For Brind'Amour, there is also the unique aspect that he gets to coach at home. He arrived in Carolina as a player more than 20 years ago and went straight from the ice to a job in player development. One year later he was behind the bench as an assistant coach and six years after that, he got the main bench boss job. There's a lot to say for those kinds of roots.
"I would have a hard time thinking I could do the same job I'm doing here somewhere else," Brind'Amour said. "I've been here forever and it's about the people I get to work with everyday. It wouldn't be the same somewhere else."
Talking to his players in their exit meetings also energized the coach – a famously gung-ho guy to begin with.
"What we've got here, I want to see it through," he said. "We still have another level to get to and that's the mission."