by Kate Shefte
By now, most ‘Canes fans have heard about the mid-season changing of the guard in Carolina. Eric Staal is now the 13th captain in franchise history and fifth since it relocated to Raleigh, replacing Rod Brind’Amour. Brind’Amour, in the twilight of his career, will stay on as an assistant captain and advise.
Maurice had plenty of flattery for the 25-year-old center, whom he first coached as a teenager.
“He’s been bred to be a captain of a hockey team and knows exactly what to do with it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s ready for this,” Maurice said. “However, you cannot fully know what it is like to be the captain of a team in the National Hockey League until you experience it.”
Apparently, the move had been in the works for months and Brind’Amour was given the final say. (What was he going to do? Throw a temper tantrum? Be the bad guy?) and today, everyone gave up the ghost. No more talk of pulling themselves out of it or making a good run down the stretch to get back into playoff contention. Brind’Amour talked about needing to move in the right direction. Maurice talked about moving in the right direction. Rutherford threw phrases around like “put on a show for the fans” and “honor the integrity of the game” in the remainder of the 2009-2010 season. The giant elephant in the room – that the ‘Canes tanked it early and are not coming back on some miracle run – was chased out with today’s captain switch.
Now, the youth movement that was rooted in Carolina years ago has finally grown branches. When Rutherford plunked down over a quarter million dollars in front of his star center last year, he was buying himself a new captain. The team has a young leader who can communicate with the youngsters, as Rutherford put it, because apparently they speak in completely different tongues. There is about to be a complete overhaul.
It’s a little weird that they didn’t let the captain of five seasons finish out his tenure. What could it honestly hurt? But Brind’Amour brushed it off, calling it the “natural” progression and reminding everyone that this wasn’t out of the blue and it wouldn’t be as big of a deal as people may thing because Staal has been groomed for this responsibility for some time.
“It made sense to go do it now so we don’t have to deal with it next year,” Brind’Amour said.
He reiterated over and over again as though trying to convince his audience that he was really, truly giddy that the young star was finally usurping the grizzled veteran while the latter was still around. Maybe he is actually happy. If not, he did a good job of putting on a show. He also addressed his underwhelming past season and a half with Carolina.
“You’ve got to be out there doing your thing, and hopefully your teammates are going to see that and be motivated by that,” Brind’Amour said. “My role in the last few months hasn’t dictated that. [The switch] needed to be done.”
But why now? Rutherford had his take.
“This is the best time for someone to understand what it takes to be a captain when you’re in as bad a time as we’re in,” Rutherford said. “I really feel strongly that doing it at this time, when we’re rebuilding this team, is to give it to the guy who’s going to lead the team for the next couple of years and to deal with the issues that this team has to deal with to get better.”
And, naturally, I have mine. The timing of this move makes some sense, but there are still questions. If Rutherford is looking to “put on a show for the fans,” there could have been a nice postseason exchange instead of this hasty mid-season switcheroo that, honestly, leaves a bit of a bad taste in everyone’s mouths. This season is a wash – finally everyone is admitting to it. Right now, it’s a contest to see who can get out with their dignity intact, who winds up with which team and who the ‘Canes will pick in the top five in Los Angeles (Tyler Seguin. Plymouth Whaler. How convenient. But anyway…) Why not have an actual passing of the baton instead of chucking it at Staal, saying “you deal with it” and slouching away?
This isn’t right for Brind’Amour. Yeah, he’s kind of been a lame duck recently, but he commandeered the ship to glory and probably should have gone down with it too. But what about Staal? This really is a no-win scenario for him. He’s young, just became a parent, is about to run off to the Olympics to represent his country – don’t you think putting the team’s successes and failures on his back right now is a little untimely? “Getting his feet wet,” sure, I get it. But right now, when the team is so far beyond repair, is a crash course in leadership I don’t envy. A fresh start would have been nice.
Their words make sense, of course. And while it was inevitable, I don’t know why but I expected a little more pomp and circumstance to this major shift. In all likelihood, the last few mementos from 2006 are about to be shipped away. In addition, I sort of wonder what it would have been like to have Ray Whitney at the helm for a little while. But he’s (put your fingers in your ears and hum loudly for this next part) one of the biggest bargaining chips the ‘Canes have at the trade deadline and may not be long for this city. Staal hasn’t shown a ton of captain potential this season, either, but then again, has anyone? Maybe he will now that he’s not afraid of stepping on someone else’s skate.
Okay. Enough. It’s done. Now what kind of captain will Staal be? According to him, similar to his former jedi master.
“I don’t think I’m a guy that’s going to be giving rah-rah speeches in the dressing room,” Staal said. “That’s not me, and that doesn’t necessarily what makes a great leader. It’s your play on the ice that others will follow.”
Staal said there will be no death glares or spitting contests in the dressing room between himself and Brind’Amour. According to Jim Rutherford, they’re best buds and talked it out way in advance.
“The relationship between Rod and I is not going to change,” Staal said. We’ve talked about it a lot. On the outside it looks a little different.”
“We’ve got 35 games left and we need to start moving in the right direction,” he continued.