Carolina had some gaps to fill this offseason with Bill Peters heading to Calgary and Ron Francis being fired before the end of the regular season. New owner Tom Dundon filled those vacancies with former team captain and Stanley Cup champion Rod Brind’Amour as the head coach and Don Waddell as the general manager
Brind’Amour had been an assistant coach with the franchise dating back several years while Waddell was the GM for the Atlanta Thrashers for over a decade and most recently was the interim GM for Carolina after Francis was let go.
The over-arching question here for Waddell is just how much autonomy he will have. Dundon made it clear when he bought the team that, by his own admission, “in the short term, it’s probably accurate” that he will be involved in a lot of the decision-making processes across the franchise. The team has a couple notable RFAs to sign like Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. Beyond that, there is a load of cap space to work with. There have been murmurs that they could move a defenceman to help with scoring up front. They also have the number-2 pick in the draft this year where they’re guaranteed a top-tier scoring talent. One thing Carolina does have is a lot of flexibility; they could make a splash in free agency, they have the pieces to make significant trades, or they could stay the current course. It’s only flexibility if Dundon doesn’t unilaterally make the decisions he sees fit, though.
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this is an off-season that will have major ramifications for this franchise for years to come. They’re some scoring depth and a good goaltending season away from making noise in the East. What Waddell chooses to do, or is kindly asked to do, will impact the team and fantasy owners alike for the next half-decade.
Predicting the impact of a coach with no head coaching experience is precarious. Does he simply continue with what Bill Peters implemented or does he make his own mark?
One thing is certain: this team’s fitness levels will improve. Whether they need it or not is another question but Brind’Amour is famous for being among the hardest workers off the ice and there’s no reason to think he won’t expect the same of his players.
Outside of bringing in help through trades, Brind’Amour will have two main jobs:
- Get the most that he can from players who’ve been inconsistent. Elias Lindholm to a certain degree and most certainly Victor Rask fit this bill. This team, at least as currently constructed, does not have the luxury of having two or three of their top-9 forwards regularly taking nights off. Lindholm is a fifth overall pick and I’m sure they want more than 40-45 points from a guy with that pedigree playing 18 minutes a night.
- Get what he can out of their goaltending. This will fall on the goaltending coach but the head coach is the guy who is usually sunk by poor performances in net. Carolina goaltending has been at or near the bottom of the league for years now and that just cannot continue. How Brind’Amour accomplishes that is his prerogative but this team cannot be expected to succeed if their goaltending is bottom-3 in the league again.
With all the young talent, the high draft pick, and loads of cap space, it should be an exciting time to be a Carolina fan. As long as Dundon can let these people do their jobs and the goaltending doesn’t sink them (again), the team should be a playoff contender. There is a lot of time between now and next April, though, and the next two months will tell us a lot about which direction this team is going to take for the next several years.