A few weeks ago, I said I needed a break from the Hurricanes. So here I am again writing about the Hurricanes. There’s been a lot that has gone down since then, though. After doing nothing at the trade deadline, the team decided to “promote” Ron Francis to Director Of Hockey Operations and will find a new GM in the off-season. Some fans were happy to see some form of change while others weren’t happy. I can sympathize with both viewpoints. The Canes have been spinning their wheels for years now and it’s easy to see why fans want a change with the new owner in town. They got it on one level, even if some don’t agree with it.
That brings us to the next phase, which is deciding what to do with Bill Peters. His timeline is similar to Francis in that fans were on-board with what he was selling for the first few seasons. He wasn’t afraid to scratch players who were higher in the lienup, he had the Hurricanes competing with poor rosters every night and it looked like they were building something with him. Four years have gone by and now the honeymoon is over. The Hurricanes still haven’t made the playoffs under his tenure and the coach is usually one of the first guys to go in this spot.
I have kind of a cynical view on coaching because even on good teams, there always seems to be one, two or twelve things coaches do that annoy the hell out of fans. There’s also a lot that we don’t get to see outside of just systems and lineup decisions. How are they getting their teams prepared? What are they teaching players? etc. Peters has the reputation of being a good coach in some of these aspects. The Hurricanes are consistently one of the top teams in the league at out-shooting their opponents and fans of other teams think pretty highly of him. Watch a Hurricanes game or two on the opposing broadcast and you’ll nothing but nice things about how good Carolina’s breakouts are, how structured their game is and how talented their defensemen are. Hockey nerds love the Hurricanes, it’s true. I’m one of them.
Then there’s the other side of it. Peters has a 131-131-53 record, making his points percentage 6th worst in the league among active head coaches. You can do a lot of good things but if you consistently fail to get results, does the process matter that much? Also how much of it is on the coach? Everybody knows the Hurricanes have two major weak spots. They’re a bad finishing team (ranking in the bottom-10 in shooting percentage again) and their goaltending stinks. These are two problems that have been around years before Peters came to town, so I’m willing to give him some leeway here. Cam Ward’s .910 save percentage in 54 games in 2014-15 was the best goaltending he’s ever gotten and that’s not even league average, so he’s already found himself behind the eight-ball there. The old saying is that if you want to evaluate a coach, just look at how his goalies have played and there’s your answer. The Hurricanes goaltending issues speak for themselves here. There’s an argument that Peters system hurts the goalies but I haven’t really seen a study or proof of it. I’d love to see some further work here, because it could explain some things.
THAT BEING SAID, there’s some blame to go around here. Cam Ward has not been a starting caliber goalie since 2011 and he has gotten a starters workload in every year that Peters has been the head coach. If they had better goalies on the roster, I’m sure this would have never been an issue, but there has been a disturbing timeline with how the goaltending has been handled in Carolina. Anton Khudobin gave the Hurricanes one of the best goalie seasons they’ve ever had in 2013-14 and started the next year as a back-up. He didn’t post great numbers in his first four starts and it took him 14 days to even get another shot. It took him until around January for him to get consistent playing time and he ended up having a sub-par season. He was then traded for Eddie Lack.
It was uncertain if the Hurricanes brought in Lack to be the back-up or spell Ward in a 1 A/B role, but he started the year on the bench had a bad first few games and couldn’t get any starts until December. Last season is a bit of a write-off because of the two concussions, but he couldn’t get consistent playing time even when he was healthy and then there was the whole “make a fucking save” rant which honestly pissed me off more than any lineup decision Peters has ever made. Even if that rant was out of character, it really made me think less of him as a coach. If only because berating your back-up goalie in front of the media when he’s only five games removed from a second concussion doesn’t exactly help anyone. Frustration gets the best of everyone sometimes, but whatever. I wasn’t a fan.
Then you have the finishing problems and a lot of it can be traced back to the talent on the roster. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Jeff Skinner are guys who you can count on for 20 goals and aside from that, the Canes are kind of scraping the bottom. Drafting is the best way to get top-end talent and the Hurricanes haven’t gotten much from here in their history and most of their recent picks are too young to help right now. Every team has a lot of whiffs and sometimes it only takes one or two home runs to turn your franchise around (just look at the LA Kings drafting history). Either way, there’s an argument that Peters hasn’t been given the talent you need to succeed. It’s a fair point, but should they be so bad that they’re consistently shooting at 7-percent? This goes back to the possible “system issues” that I see thrown around all the time and would love to take a closer look at.
It’s also a little annoying to keep seeing how the Hurricanes don’t have the talent to be a “playoff team” when the bar to get in the playoffs really isn’t that high, especially this season. The Metro Division has been painfully mediocre this year and all the Hurricanes had to do is be 5th best out of that bunch, which isn’t saying a lot and they’re struggling to get even to that mark is troubling. This is why fans have been harder on the coaching staff this year and picking apart some of his decisions like playing Jeff Skinner lower in the lineup with guys who can’t get him the puck, giving Derek Ryan top-nine minutes when he has eight points since January and giving Joakim Nordstrom any ice-time at all when Alex Nedeljkovic has outscored him in Charlotte.
They’re all decisions around the edges that add up over time and hurt more when you can’t get a save and average only two goals per game. Replace him with Coach X and he might end up doing the same thing, or he’ll fix one thing and do something else that’s not optimal. It become a case of “he isn’t the only problem, but he isn’t helping.” Which is the argument you’re left with when your team isn’t very good to begin with.
There’s some what-if games you can play with the Hurricanes. Like, I wonder how many more games they would win with .925 goaltending for one season if a goalie is even capable of doing that in Carolina. Would we be having this same discussion or would they be just barely making the playoffs instead of sitting six points out? Would the season be a “success” then? I don’t know. The reality is that the team isn’t in a good spot at this moment and all Tom Dundon has seen is a team that has found different ways to lose and look horrible in the process. So it’s easy to see why they would want some new faces in the building.
I wanted Peters to succeed in Carolina and I’m sure he’ll be a good coach somewhere, but there comes a point where something needs to change if you don’t get results. The constant meltdowns, poor starts and no-shows when the team is on the cusp of making a push don’t exactly reflect well on him either but again, this happened when Kirk Muller was the head coach too. Remember April 2013? I have some time for the argument of getting him a better roster and there’s room to do that. The Hurricanes will have a new boss and loads of cap space. I can also understand wanting a new guy coaching the team because they haven’t been able to win under Peters’ leadership. I’ve also followed the NHL long enough to know that there’s only so much GMs are willing to do in an off-season and a coaching change is the easiest thing you can do. Will that guy end up being better than Peters? He could be! We really have no idea and as Hurricanes fans, we should be prepared for the worst regardless of what they do.