After months of speculation and numerous interviews, the Carolina Hurricanes have named Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters as their next head coach. Peters will be introduced to the media on Friday, June 20 at noon, where he and General Manager Ron Francis will answer questions at the PNC Arena. One question that is on the minds of Hurricane fans everywhere is what direction is best for the future of the club.
Peters brings a wealth of coaching experience to the club, but very little as a head coach at the NHL level. He has spent the past three seasons as the assistant coach to the Detroit Red Wings, working with their defensive strategies and their penalty kill. Before being hired by the Red Wings, he served as the head coach of the American Hockey League (AHL) Rockford Ice Hogs. His time with Rockford and Detroit should help the Hurricanes, depending on which way Francis decides to take the team.
The Carolina organization faces a crossroad after missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. Though Francis has stated that he would like how the current core group of players in Carolina perform for one more year, that has not dissuaded the rumors surrounding goaltender Cam Ward and Carolina’s top two centers, Eric Staal and Jordan Staal. If the Hurricanes were to trade these players, it might indicate the desire to begin the rebuilding process. Peters’ experience in Rockford, developing players for the Chicago Blackhawks, could give a solid boost to Carolina’s normally poor history of development. With Victor Rask, Brock McGinn, Ryan Murphy, Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes have a solid core of young players if developed correctly under Peters.
The other path is to stick with the established core the team already has. Many of the core players on the team had extremely poor seasons by their normal standards. Eric Staal had the worst season of his career, outside of his rookie year, and his perceived lax play in the defensive zone drew a lot of criticism from both the fans and the media. Likewise, a combination of injuries and low confidence led to an unacceptable season for Ward. The Hurricanes have not made the official announcement, but it is assumed that young goaltender Anton Khudobin will be the de-facto starter next season, making Ward a very expensive backup. Using his experience with the Detroit Red Wings, Peters could instill a sense of defensive responsibility within the players, which could very easily turn a team that struggled on both sides of the ice last season into productive two-way players.
With the NHL Entry Draft only a week away, newly appointed head coach Bill Peters and General Manager Ron Francis will have to quickly decide which direction they want to take the team. It will not only affect the decisions being made at the draft, but the decisions being made in the entire offseason. While it is unreasonable to expect an instant change in fortune to a team that has missed the playoffs as often as the Hurricanes have, especially with a new head coach at the helm, some progress in some aspect of the team has to appear next season. Season tickets renewals have dropped steadily since the team last made the playoffs in 2009, and the organization needs to make the playoffs again to reverse that trend. Both the organization and their fans are hoping that Bill Peters will be the one to lead that change.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner