An era officially ended in Hurricanes history with the retirement of all-time points leader Rod Brind’Amour on Wednesday.
No player scored more in a Carolina uniform than Brind’Amour, who posted 473 of his 1,184 career points following a trade from Philadelphia in 2000. During his time with the franchise, he won back-to-back Selke trophies as the league’s top defensive forward in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and led the team to its first Stanley Cup championship in 2006.
“I feel very, very fortunate to have played as long as I have and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity that was given to me over the years by this organization as a player,” he said.
Brind’Amour, whose future had been in doubt heading into the final season of his five-year deal, is expected to join the team’s front office in a yet-to-be determined capacity following his upcoming wedding and honeymoon. At that time, he and General Manager Jim Rutherford will sit down to iron out a more formal role with the organization – an opportunity which turned out to be a major factor in Brind’Amour’s decision to stop playing.
“I felt they wanted me around still, and that made it easy for me to say, ‘Let’s do this right now,’” he said.
Officially, the end of Brind’Amour’s playing contract has been termed a buyout, with the team owing him $1 million for each of the next two years, which amounts to two-thirds of his remaining salary. The full value of his remaining contract - $3 million – will count against the team’s salary cap, but that is not thought to be an issue with the team’s projected payroll.
“He retired, we used the guidelines of (a buyout) as a settlement and then we just go forward with him on an employment contract,” said Rutherford.
While the exact nature of that employment has yet to be determined, Rutherford admitted that he had suggested playing to Brind’Amour’s fame as one of the most dedicated players in the league when it comes to physical fitness.
“He kind of laughed at me a little bit and said that I’d better be careful what I’m asking for,” said Rutherford, himself chuckling at the memory. “He wasn’t sure that was such a good idea, because he does work out quite a bit harder than even the players we would view as hard-working guys.”
“I’m open for everything, and I know with my competitive nature and how I am that I’m probably going to want to do more than what they want me to do,” said Brind’Amour.
Wednesday was the last possible day for the Hurricanes and Brind’Amour to proceed in the manner they did due to the closure of the NHL’s buyout window. While dialogue was ongoing between the two parties throughout the process, they agreed through separate interviews with the media that they did not feel completely comfortable about the situation until one final chat on the morning of the announcement.
Making the process a difficult one until that point was the fact that Brind’Amour admittedly still feels he can play next season.
“I told him (Rutherford) straight up that I wanted to,” he said. “I didn’t like the way this season went and I thought I wanted a chance to kind of redeem myself, in my mind anyway, but in talking to him I totally understood where it wouldn’t be a right fit for this team at this point.
“We had both discussed that it might not fit for me to come back here, so I was very well aware, especially with the way the season went for me, that I might not be back,” he continued. “The only question was how much do I want to play, and obviously it might have had to be somewhere else. When I started weighing that out, it never ever felt right.”
As much as the 452 goals and 732 assists he racked up over his 21 seasons in the league, Brind’Amour will be remembered for the almost obsessive commitment to conditioning that led to Rutherford’s suggestion that he may have a future in that area. To prove that point, the general manager cited one of his first impressions of his future captain that occurred not long after he arrived in the Triangle nursing a broken foot.
”We had a freak snow storm where we got 20 inches and no one went anywhere,” recalled Rutherford. “He dug his car out with the help of a Coke bottle and his hands to go to the arena and work out that day. I don’t know anybody in pro sports that’s more dedicated to his body and his workouts.”
That continued right up until the end of Brind’Amour’s career, and probably will go on after retirement, which is part of what made his decision so difficult.
“Obviously getting older there’s going to be little things where you don’t feel the same, but coming into camp last year and doing the testing, Pete (Friesen, the team’s head trainer) can say that I was one of the best guys in-shape and really better than I had been in any of the years,” he said. “That really works against me in my mind because then you’re thinking that there’s no reason (to stop).”
There was also his success as a captain and his place in the team’s impressive leadership lineage, having inherited the role from Ron Francis before passing it to Eric Staal this past season.
”The one thing I knew was that if I called Rod and asked him a question or called him in my office or he pulled me aside or talked about something, I knew it was really important,” said Rutherford. “He took care of a lot of things on his own where some captains may come to the coach or general manager for help.”
Whatever his future role may be, Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes organization seem to be at peace with the decision largely because that working relationship will continue. Rather than a somber reflection of the past, the events of the day seemed to be focused more on what the future may hold.
“(The front-office position) is not just a gift to him at this point in his career,” said Rutherford. “I feel very strongly that Rod’s got a lot to offer to the Hurricanes as he’s already done.” ”This is my home, this is where my kids have grown up, this is what we know and I love it here,” said Brind’Amour. “I didn’t have any intention of going anywhere else.”