Reality has finally set in for the Carolina Hurricanes.
And this is it.
Their season is done -- has been for a long time too -- and waiting any longer to get a much-needed overhaul under way just doesn’t make sense. Best to start the process right away and maybe to find a face saving way to admit they’re throwing in the towel. Even if means embarrassing a loyal and long-serving foot solider in the process.
That’s the unfortunate part of Carolina naming Eric Staal to replace 39-year-old Rod Brind’Amour as captain. Brind’Amour has worn the “C” since the lockout and came to be recognized as one of the game’s best leaders in the process. And yet the ascension has been inevitable for Staal since he arrived in Carolina as a high-drafted teenager and was mentored first by Ron Francis, and more recently by Brind’Amour.
It’s the right choice too for the organization. Staal is 25, signed for life and the Hurricanes have effectively been his team since he led them to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Besides, they are out of this season’s playoff race as they have been for all intents and purposes since early November.
The organization deluded itself into thinking the aging group that rode a strong second half to a surprise playoff spot and two early round upsets had another run in it this season. Instead, Carolina had a miserable start, lost Staal and franchise goalie Cam Ward for long stretches, and got generally dismal efforts from a number from a number of veterans who look past their “best-before” dates.
Until now, the Hurricanes have been clinging to the notion they could magically turn things around again, but after another ugly effort in a home loss this week to Atlanta, they seem to have come to terms with the need to look beyond this season. And they made that clear by taking away the captaincy from a veteran.
It's a not-so-subtle way of telling someone their time is done, especially coming in mid-season rather than in the summer when it might have been a more graceful transition. But Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said the time was central to the decision, because he wanted Staal to understand what the role involves when times are tough.
Apparently Brind’Amour is on board with the idea. He’s a hard-nosed, old-time hockey type so that would preclude him from making waves. Especially since he has one year left on the lucrative extension he got for his integral role in the 2006 Cup win. Brind’Amour is a fitness fanatic and a two-time Selke winner as the best defensive forward, but he is getting older in a business that is getting decidedly young, and his game took a nose dive last season when he had a minus-23 rating.
There's no hiding that, particularly since that number hasn’t improved this year. It won’t do much to help Brind’Amour interest a playoff contender that might for veteran help around the trade deadline when Carolina wants to be a big seller, so this move is a more of a way for the Hurricanes help ease Brind’Amour into retirement.
Rutherford did make it clear that Brind’Amour’s status beyond this season is undecided despite the remaining year on his contract, but that he would leave the call up to the player.
“We owe it to him for what he’s done for us,” Rutherford said on the Hurricanes team web site.
But when reality sets in, that’s all they owe.