By Peter Koutroumpis
RALEIGH, N.C. – As Day 5 of training camp has arrived, and will be capped off by their first NHL exhibition contest of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes present myriad questions as to whether this will be the year.
The year to break the league’s longest-running streak of missing the postseason – nine consecutive seasons to be exact.
This is not a narrative to dump on a team that has tried, tried, tried but has just not had enough to break through a barrier and past a line that other teams keep moving on them.
Just when it seems they’ve gotten better, others teams have too.
Or when the Hurricanes just needed to seize the moment to make their move in the standings, familiar issues swirled at the same time including multiple-player scoring droughts, questionable goaltending performances, injuries, or simply a perceived lack of toughness and grit in character to get the job done.
Of course, that is one way that skeptics, longtime fans included, will look at how this team’s performance will turn out.
Trading away 29 percent of its offensive output, specifically goal production, from last season leaves many following Carolina once again shrugging their shoulders with hands in the air and simply saying, ‘I don’t know what to expect – let’s wait and see’.
Then you have the eternal optimists who are more excited that such drastic changes, almost derived from a knee-jerk reaction to say ‘we’re changing things to change things’, including making trades, altering the coaching staff, even front office staff, were made to let everyone take a deep breath and reset.
At least that’s the thinking so far.
The buzz of seeing an overdose of images of the team’s leading scorer Sebastian Aho on social media channels all summer, thrown in with the introduction of second overall draft pick Andrei Svechnikov and new besty, Martin Necas, the team’s top pick in 2017, has many fans running to purchase new t-shirts, jerseys, and other gear to adorn the ice backdrop at PNC Arena.
As they should.
The promise of unrealized potential always brings eternal hope and optimism.
So, what happens tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of six exhibition contests that first-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour has to assemble this team into a functioning group that will move the needle farther in Carolina than it has previously?
There are so many variables that will be in play, the most significant being a new coaching staff that is figuring out how to work together and leading a group of players who are trying to do the same.
Unity and the belief that “we are all in this together” has been Brind’Amour’s rallying cry from Day 1.
During these early days of camp, the skating and hard reps put in, back-and-forth between the side boards and longer-length end lines, will hopefully make this a better conditioned team that will play with structure, but will be expected to read and react to situations.
In former head coach Bill Peters’ overly-controlled system, the odds and percentages were often played and took away from individual players’ abilities to make plays.
Not that Peters didn’t want them to use their natural skill and talent to make a play, but eventually the negative reinforcement of coloring outside the lines eventually resulted in a loss of motivation that seemed to ‘paralyze’ numerous players.
What Brind’Amour notices and openly shares, is his read of the players’ effort, particularly following a lackluster session.
“Guys are getting anxious now, they want to actually go play,” he said on Monday.
“They’re tired of systems and all the boring stuff, which I get and remember very well. It’s not the most fun stuff to do. I think they’re just anxious to get started playing.”
From a structure point of view, you’ll see puck movement on the breakout from D to D, up the boards into the neutral zone with an entry that will continue along the same side towards the corner until the opposing defense commits.
That is when the magic hopefully happens with a quick pivot away and a drop pass, or a feed cross-ice finds trailing forwards flashing to the net for a low shot and rebounds that eventually end up in the net.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, it is, if it’s done the right way with the talent that this team is working with.
The depth of that talent is debatable.
So much potential exists, that is the thinking at this time of year.
With captain Justin Williams leading, Brind’Amour likes the group’s bonding off the ice.
“I really like what’s goin’ on with the group as a whole,” he said.
“They’re together – you really feel a positive vibe. I love walkin’ through the room – a big change.”
On the ice though, he’s still waiting to see what will happen.
“I don’t see it yet, but right now it doesn’t really matter,” he concluded.
“We’ll start seeing stuff in games and start making more of an assessment that way.”
As we all will.
Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport