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as a Hurricane.
In the last 11 years, Carolina has come a long way as a hockey market. Back when it was still getting started, even someone who would become one of its greatest ambassadors needed a little convincing.
On Jan. 23, 2000, the Philadelphia Flyers traded Rod Brind’Amour, a center who was on his ninth season with the team, to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Keith Primeau. The deal involved picks and prospects, but those two were the centerpieces of a long-awaited move that ended Primeau’s five-month contract holdout.
At the time, the Hurricanes were in just their third season in North Carolina and first in Raleigh following two difficult seasons in Greensboro, meaning that there was plenty of uncertainty involved compared to the stable situation Brind’Amour was leaving in Philadelphia. Beyond the culture shock, there was also the shock of leaving the Flyers, with whom he played a total of 690 games.
“I was pretty devastated,” he recalled. “At the time, I bled orange and black.”
While Hurricanes coaches and management were thrilled about the trade – even though Brind’Amour had only recently returned from a broken foot, they were able to acquire an eight-time 20-goal scorer without giving up a player on their current roster – they expected some skepticism.
“I felt real good about that trade, but you’re always concerned about it,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford.
“You’ve got to look at it from Rod Brind’Amour’s perspective,” said coach Paul Maurice. “The word warrior gets thrown around, but he was such a great competitor for Philadelphia for so long, and they’ve always, with their payroll, seemed to be on the cusp of being a contender. There was that concern about how he was going to handle this trade”
It didn’t help that, at the time of the deal, the Hurricanes were under .500, had won just one of their last six games and were about to be pummeled by a record 23 inches of snow. To say the least, Brind’Amour, who was with the Flyers in Pittsburgh at the time of the trade and had not yet been able to retrieve any of his belongings from home, was ill-prepared for the experience.
“I had one suit and nothing else, then the snow hits and I’m stuck in the hotel and can’t get out of the parking lot in my rental car,” he said. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’”
As bleak as things seemed, Brind’Amour would begin to see signs that things could work out. When asked about the first such omen he encountered, he didn’t point to anything that happened on the ice of the RBC Center or any of the other 29 rinks around the league. Instead, he pointed to a parking lot about a mile up Edwards Mill Road, itself still icy from the winter storm that welcomed him to Raleigh.
“I had to stand in line at the Harris Teeter, and the line was out the door,” he said. “I remember some lady telling me to go ahead, even though I was like 100 people back, because I had no overcoat.
”They didn’t know who I was. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, you’re Rod Brind’Amour, go ahead.’ It was, ‘Hey man, we can tell you’re going to be cold out here.’ I remember thinking, ‘That would not have happened up there (in Philadelphia).’
Although the Hurricanes posted a relatively strong 19-13-2 record with Brind’Amour in the lineup, it wasn’t enough to erase a sluggish few months prior to the trade. As disappointed as Brind’Amour was to miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, he was just as disappointed in his own play. Having missed the first 34 games of the season with the foot injury suffered during the preseason – a situation he now refers to as a “fiasco” - he never quite hit his stride. His 14 points in 33 games were well below his pace from his last seasons with the Flyers.
That was when he began to see what the organization was all about.
“For whatever reason, they never made me feel like I wasn’t important or that it was a bad deal that they made,” he said. “I always felt that they knew I could play and that they believed in me. That meant a lot.”
That faith would be rewarded the next season when he returned to the 20-goal mark in the last year of his contract. Rather than try to leave, as he thought he might in those first days, he decided to stick around.
“I felt like I owed it to them because they showed me a lot of loyalty, and I felt like I needed to give it back,” he said. “I saw all these changes happening and people coming in, and I knew that we were going to do some good things.”
“We knew that he wasn’t totally 100 percent healthy when we got him, but we didn’t make that trade for that season alone,” said Rutherford. “We wanted him as a building block for a team that could win the Stanley Cup.”
Up next: the 2002 run to the Stanley Cup Finals