Rod Brind’Amour

NHL on NBCSN: Hurricanes begin mammoth March vs. Flyers

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For all of the EBUG love the Hurricanes received following David Ayres’ unlikely win, the uncomfortable postscript is that the magic wore off almost immediately for Carolina.

The Hurricanes ended February on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), and that Ayres-aided win was their only victory in their past five contests. They’re a mediocre 3-4-2 in their last nine. Not exactly the sort of run you hope for when you want to return to the postseason.

If they want to turn things around in March, the Hurricanes must do it the hard way. From the look of the way their Thursday opponent the Flyers have been playing, Carolina won’t be getting many favors.

The Hurricanes need to start making up ground, and fast.

[Push for the Playoffs: Where the Hurricanes and other teams fit right now]

A difficult March begins for the Hurricanes with this Flyers test

The Hurricanes received a moment to breathe, as they haven’t played since a 4-3 overtime loss to the Habs on Saturday.

A month from now, the Hurricanes might wish that they could have spread this past break out over the full month of March.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Consider these facts and figures:

  • The Hurricanes play 16 games over 27 days.
  • Every full weekend of March includes a back-to-back set. Overall, Carolina faces five back-to-back sets. They have the most remaining back-to-backs along with the Flyers and Anaheim Ducks.
  • Thursday’s game in Philly begins a five-game road trip for the Hurricanes.
  • Will it be good or bad luck that Carolina’s clashes with the Penguins are all consolidated in a short span? They play the Penguins four times, so Carolina must hope that Pittsburgh remains relatively rudderless.
  • Looking further, there’s some hope the Hurricanes might get a few contextual bits of luck. It’s possible that the Hurricanes’ two games against the Bruins (home on March  31, at Boston on April 4) won’t mean much to the B’s. If the Bruins exercise “load management” with the Presidents’ Trophy/at least the top spot in the East in the bag, that could mean easier games for Carolina than what appears on paper. Frankly, the Bruins would do this if they’re smart, especially considering the mileage on veterans like Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and even Brad Marchand. It’s also possible that the Blue Jackets might be out of the race by April 3. Obviously, those three games would be treacherous if that luck doesn’t go Carolina’s way.

Take a look at this chart to really drive the point home:

Chart for Hurricanes March

Brind’Amour, others are aware of the challenge

You likely won’t hear many Hurricanes gripe about their tough haul, at least not publicly.

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour says all the right things, with a touch of terminology that might make you think that he’s trying to catch all of the Pokemon/pogs/commemorative stamps.

“You can group them all into the same category for me – you’ve got to have them,” Brind’Amour said, via the team website. “Whether they’re on the road, whether they’re divisional … it kind of all goes out the window. You’re at a point where you’ve got to have them.”

Unfortunately, the Flyers are also hunting to gather wins for their own aims, so Carolina will need to work to collect them all.

John Forslund and Pierre McGuire will call the contest from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Thursday’s studio coverage will be hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Scott Hartnell.

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NBC Sports will utilize an all-female crew to broadcast and produce game coverage of Sunday’s Blues-Blackhawks game, coinciding with International Women’s Day and marking the first NHL game broadcast and produced solely by women in the U.S.

Kate Scott (play-by-play) will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) and AJ Mleczko (analyst) from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Justin Williams leads ‘Storm Surge’ in Hurricanes return

Sports sometimes stick to “Hollywood” scripting, but hockey can be stubborn. In this case, Justin Williams delivered during his return to the Carolina Hurricanes and NHL in general.

Williams closed out what was a pretty exciting, and occasional strange, shootout in Carolina’s favor. It went eight rounds, but Williams scored the shootout-deciding goal as the Hurricanes beat the Islanders 2-1.

Naturally, that wasn’t enough for this “bunch of jerks.” Williams also fittingly took center stage during the “Storm Surge,” giving a salute. You can watch those great moments in the video above this post.

More on a storybook return for Justin Williams

James Reimer made fun of our thirst for a narrative after the game.

“It was all a conspiracy from the beginning. That was the plan,” Reimer joked, via the Hurricanes’ website. “We fooled everyone.”

Really, there’s only one question about this Williams return: what took Rod Brind’Amour so long to send him out in the shootout? Just number eight? Nice sense of the moment, Rod.

(Just kidding — mostly.)

Williams made an impact on the game proper, firing three shots on goal, delivering a hit, and blocking a shot during 13:06 time on ice. Despite being a grizzled veteran at age 38, Williams faced some jitters.

“I was nervous the whole game, to be honest,” Williams said. “It was a playoff game out there. That’s what it felt like that. Teams weren’t giving an inch. There were chances either way, and it could have gone either way,” he said. “I’ve played over 1,200 of these, so I was like, ‘OK, Justin. Get real here. You can do this.’ It was fun. We got what we wanted: two points.”

Well, Brind’Amour believes Williams “fit right in.”

Speaking of people getting right back into the groove, the Hurricanes provided a fun variation on his nickname: on Sunday, Williams became “Mr. Round 8.”

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ron Francis speaks about handling of Peters situation while Hurricanes GM

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NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis has responded to how physical abuse accusations against former Carolina Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters were handled when he was the team’s GM.

Speaking with The Seattle Times this week, Francis said he addressed the issue with Peters and defended giving him a two-year extension after the fact.

“We looked where the team was and how it was playing,” Francis said. “It was moving in the right direction. We’d made a huge increase from where it was the year before to where we were that year. And quite honestly, we looked at that (physical-abuse) situation, we addressed it and we felt it was behind him.”

“I think you deal with it the best you can with the situation you have at the time,” Francis said. “I think within the last week there have been some changes the league has made. I think that’s positive moving forward. I don’t claim to be perfect. I make mistakes. I try to learn every day from the people I talk with in situations. That’s what I try to do and take that knowledge moving forward. And hopefully you’re never in that situation again.”

Last month, after Peters was accused to uttering racial slurs at Akim Aliu, whom he coached in the American Hockey League, former Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan said that Peters kicked him in the back and punched another player during a game. The allegations for were confirmed by current head coach Rod Brind’Amour, who was an assistant under Peters.

Former Hurricanes majority owner Peter Karmanos told The Seattle Times that he would have fired Francis “in a nanosecond” had he been made aware of the allegations against Peters, even though Francis, who added there was a full vetting process during the hiring process, said he informed management of the situation.

Peters resigned as Calgary Flames head coach days after the allegations went public. In a statement that week Francis acknowledged he was made aware of the incidents and that he “took immediate action to address the matter and briefed ownership.” He did not reveal what he did to correct the matter in either his statement or in the interview with the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“When you look back, there were some things we did well and certain things we need to improve on to get better,” he said. “That’s part of the learning process, I think.”

The NHL revealed a four-point plan this week at the Board of Governors that will provide a guideline for teams in handling abuse allegations and other inappropriate conduct.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hurricanes remain ‘hopeful’ for a Justin Williams comeback

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When Justin Williams announced in September he would be “taking a break” from hockey, he didn’t shut the door entirely on a possible comeback at some point this season.

“Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game,” wrote the 38-year-old Williams.

With the Hurricanes sitting in an Eastern Conference wild card and only two points away from a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division, adding a veteran goal scorer like Williams would only help. What he brings on and off the ice is immeasurable, and it was clear last season just how valuable he was to a budding young team. The team is hopeful he’ll return to play and are keeping the lines of communication open.

“We continue to talk with him. I think he’s working out a little bit more on his own right now,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell told the team website this week. “I think he’s going to start coming to the gym a little more. That’s a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we’re hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.”

Waddell isn’t the only one who’s unsure of a Williams return. Williams himself sounds like he’s been back and forth on what his future holds, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting closer to a time where if he doesn’t, then he’s not,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got to get in game shape and do all that, so there’s a time frame for that. There’s still time for that. … We talk quite a bit. We mostly talk about kids and how’s coaching going. I’ll ask if he’s staying in shape or getting in shape, and he’ll some days say, ‘Yeah,’ and then say, ‘Ah, maybe.’ So, we’ll see.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Marc Crawford on leave from Blackhawks following Sean Avery’s allegations

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The Chicago Blackhawks announced that assistant coach Marc Crawford “will be away from the team” while they investigate “recent allegations that have been made regarding his conduct with another organization.”

To cut through the legalese that’s becoming common as stories of abuse have surfaced (or resurfaced) over the past few weeks, the Blackhawks are referring to Sean Avery’s claims that Crawford kicked him during a Dec. 23, 2006 game stemming from their time with the Los Angeles Kings.

Avery’s details were pretty vivid to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks.

Avery explained that he messed up a drill during a practice, and his errant puck caught Crawford on the head, forcing Crawford to get stitches. Brooks asked Avery if Crawford then kicked Avery because of the mistake during the drill, but Avery said that it was because of a penalty:

“No, he kicked me after a too-many-men-on-the-ice call I took,” Avery said. “He didn’t have me serve it, we got scored on, and he let me have it.”

“You know how I stand at the end of the bench? He came down and gave me an ass kick that left a mark.”

If you’re familiar with Avery’s career as a profound pest, you’d probably not be too surprised that he believes that the rump-kicking wasn’t what got Avery traded out of town. Instead, Avery stated that he nearly got in a scuffle with an assistant named Mark Hardy.

(The candidness is really worth a read.)

Anyway, Avery’s claims surfaced from Brooks on Nov. 30, and the Blackhawks made this move on Monday (Dec. 2).

Here are the two tweets, again heavy on careful wording:

Allegations surfacing from around the NHL, and hockey world in general

To recap, reports of Mike Babcock asking Mitch Marner to put together a list of the Maple Leafs’ most and least hard-working young players inspired others to share their own experiences.

Akim Aliu spoke up about racist remarks made by Bill Peters about a decade ago, when the two were part of a Blackhawks affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs. Following Aliu’s tweets, Michal Jordan also accused Peters of being physically abusive during their time with the Carolina Hurricanes (claims that were backed up by others, including Rod Brind’Amour). The Flames eventually parted ways with Peters after he offered a carefully worded statement, a statement that was criticized by many, Aliu included.

There’s been a back-and-forth between former Hurricanes owner Peter Karamanos and former Hurricanes GM Ron Francis stemming from how allegations of Peters’ abuse was handled.

Additional details regarding Babcock’s treatment of players have also come about, including troubling details about how Babcock allegedly treated Johan Franzen, both from Franzen and from Chris Chelios.

Former NHL player Daniel Carcillo has also gone into (sometimes graphic) detail about allegations of abuse in the hockey world.

Crawford, then, is another person in a position of power who is being accused of abusive behavior.

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Will this series of accusations (which isn’t comprehensive, and may just be the beginning) result in big changes for the culture around the sport, overall?

Some, such as The Athletic’s Eric Duhatschek, believe that this is the start of a “reckoning.” Others, including Jashvina Shah for The Globe & Mail, believe that hockey culture will never change.

Whatever the larger impact might or might not be, we know that Peters is out as Flames head coach, and Crawford is at least on temporary leave from the Blackhawks.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.