The 36-year-old captain of the Carolina Hurricanes is on fire one quarter into the NHL season, leading the defending Stanley Cup champions in scoring with 26 points (8-18) in 20 games. It was also good enough for sixth overall in league scoring before play Thursday night.
“I do feel good,” the veteran centre said Thursday before boarding a flight for Washington. “When you play with good players, it’s amazing what can happen. And also I’m getting a lot of opportunities. It’s really the first time in my career both last year and this year that I’ve been getting out there a ton and in every key situation.
“When you have that happen and you play with good players, usually good things happen.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette keeps throwing him over the boards. Brind’Amour ranks second in the NHL among forwards with 23 minutes 42 seconds of ice time per game (Tampa’s Martin St. Louis is first at 24:08).
“It’s funny you mention that because just the other day, Lavvy was talking about reigning me in a little bit and not playing me as much,” Brind’Amour said with a laugh. “I’m not happy about that, every player wants to play as much as possible.”
How does he not get tired?
“I don’t know if there’s any secret,” he said. “I get this question asked a lot in the last little while. I don’t feel any different than when I was 26. I’m sure at some point it’ll catch up with me but hopefully not for a while.”
The Hurricanes aren’t banking on him slowing down any time soon. GM Jim Rutherford signed his captain to an US$18-million, five-year contract last June a few days after the Cup win.
“When you sign long-term deals, you have to look at a number of things,” Rutherford said Thursday. “You have concerns doing that with some players, but not with a guy like Rod. Character, conditioning and obviously health play key roles in longevity and Rod Brind’Amour has all that. He led our team to the Stanley Cup and we rewarded him for it.”
Brind’Amour will be 40 when the contract expires.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to play,” he said. “I’m going to play as long as I can keep it up and as long as they want me around. I think the length of this deal basically says that. You never know. I never look too far down the road.”
He’s currently on pace to record 107 points this season, which would eclipse his career high of 97 set in 1993-94 with Philadelphia.
“It’s 20 games into the year. I don’t do those projections, they don’t seem to ever pan out,” Brind’Amour said, downplaying it.
Still, while the Hurricanes suffered from a Stanley Cup hangover in early October, their captain did not.
“No, and nor would you think there would be with him,” said Rutherford. “He’s a guy that’s as happy as anybody to win it and he would enjoy a couple of days around that celebration but get right back to work and focus. And that’s what he did, which is why he got his game going pretty much from the start of the season.”
Few observers around the league gives the Hurricanes any chance of repeating, but Brind’Amour believes it’s possible.
“Everyone knows how hard it is to repeat,” he said. “Every team has a decent shot at winning, I really believe that. The parity is there, now more than ever. You’re not going to see a team load up because they just can’t do it (in a salary cap system).
“I wouldn’t count us out, that’s for sure.”
After the starting the season 0-3-1, Carolina has gone 10-4-2.
“Number One, I don’t think we were as focused at camp as we were the year, naturally, after what we had just accomplished,” reasoned Brind’Amour. “There was a ton of distractions. That played into it a little bit. We also had some key injuries early on and also some guys leave (via free agency).
“So it took a while for us to find our stride. Don’t forget we played 11 of our first 16 games on the road.”
One of those road games was a 3-2 win at Ottawa on Nov. 4 in which Brind’Amour became the 71st player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points.
“When I got to 500 points in this league I thought, ‘I’ll never get to 1,000.’ If I ever do that would be a neat accomplishment,” he said. “And then when I got it, it didn’t seem like that big a deal to be honest with you. I think those are the kind of things you look back on when you’re all done and you say, ‘Geez, that was pretty nice that I was able to do that.’
“I think 1,000 points will get more diminished as years go on because now more and more will get to it. But it’s still a neat thing to have in your cap.”
And to think some of the players who went ahead of him in the 1988 NHL entry draft when St. Louis took him ninth overall. Pittsburgh chose Darrin Shannon fourth overall, Quebec next took Daniel Dore and Toronto followed up with Scott Pearson.
Rutherford didn’t draft him but credit the Carolina GM for having the vision of seeing a lot of hockey left in Brind’Amour when he acquired him from Philadelphia in January 2000.