RALEIGH, N.C. – The Carolina Hurricanes decided not to wait any longer before signalling a changing of the guard.
The last-place team has turned to a new leader, with veteran forward Rod Brind’Amour handing over the captaincy to 25-year-old Eric Staal on Wednesday.
It’s a move GM Jim Rutherford has been discussing with both men for some time. Ultimately, he thought it was best to make the change with the Hurricanes sitting 30th in the NHL.
“This would be the best time for somebody to understand what it takes to be a captain when you are in as bad of times as we’re in,” said Rutherford. “Different people have different opinions as to you wait until the end of the season or when this should be done. But I really feel very strongly that doing it at this point in time – when we’ve started our rebuilding of this team – is to give it to the guy that’s going to lead this team on for the next several years.
“(We) have to start to deal with the issues that this team has to deal with to get better.”
Staal has spent his entire career with the Hurricanes after being drafted second overall in 2003, and is under contract through 2015-16.
While it was no secret that he would likely wear the ‘C’ eventually, the move had to be made delicately. Brind’Amour had served as captain since August 2005 and accepted the Stanley Cup from commissioner Gary Bettman when the Hurricanes won their only championship in 2006.
The 39-year-old forward has seen a reduced role this season – being made a healthy scratch for a game in December – and agreed it was time to “pass the torch.”
“The timing of it was kind of the question, we all knew that Eric was going to take over at some point,” said Brind’Amour, who will be an alternate captain for the remainder of the year. “To me personally, I thought it was a good time to do it. Just to get his feet wet.
“Me kind of handing the torch over to him is really an honour to me because I know what kind of good person he is. We all know what kind of great player he is.”
Staal becomes the team’s fifth captain since its move to North Carolina and the 13th in franchise history.
He follows two strong leaders in Ron Francis and Brind’Amour, both of whom took Carolina to a Stanley Cup final. Staal tends to be quite soft spoken and expects to lead by example.
“I don’t think I’m a guy that’s going to be standing up giving raw-raw speeches in the dressing room,” he said. “That’s not me and it doesn’t necessarily make you a great leader. It’s just knowing the right times when something needs to be said and making sure your play on the ice is what guys will follow.”
This was a day many within the organization saw coming.
Staal was a teenager during his first season with the Hurricanes and has since developed into the team’s top player, having scored 30 or more goals in four straight seasons. He’ll also be a member of Team Canada at next month’s Olympics – making him one of nine NHL captains wearing the Maple Leaf in Vancouver.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice firmly believes that Staal belongs in those ranks.
“His experiences here and growing up, he’s been bred to be a captain of a hockey team from the time he was playing major junior,” said Maurice. “He knows exactly what goes into that. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s ready for this.
“At the same time, you cannot fully know what it is to be a captain of team in the National Hockey League until you experience it.”
Changes are clearly afoot in Carolina.
While Rutherford says he expects his team to compete hard for the rest of the season, he indicated that he’s likely to trade away some veterans before the March 3 deadline. The GM has already been fielding some calls and there’s expected to be a lot of interest in forward Ray Whitney, among others.
Brind’Amour thinks the captaincy change is only the beginning.
“We’ve heard for a couple months how we’re transitioning,” he said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more things happen here in the next couple months to shakeup the team getting ready for next year or maybe down the line.
“This is just a natural (thing) to happen.”