The Canes brought in a new head coach in early December, but the changes go deeper than that.
Under Paul Maurice, the Canes have a larger-than-usual staff also consisting of Ron Francis, Kevin McCarthy, Tom Rowe and Tom Barrasso, each of whom is responsible for a few specific aspects of the team.
General Manager Jim Rutherford was the first to openly compare the setup to that of coordinators on a football team, an analogy that rings true in the locker room.
“That’s exactly what it is – everybody seems to be responsible for something else,” said Justin Williams. “The good thing is that if you need advice, you’ve got plenty of sources.”
Under the current structure, McCarthy assists with the logistical aspects of practice and is the team’s eye-in-the-sky during games, communicating with Francis on the bench via headset – a first in Carolina. Barrasso coaches the goaltenders, Francis directs the power play and Rowe is in charge of the defense.
As for Maurice?
“I’m more five-on-five, practice structure, running the bench and yelling at people,” he said.
While most teams divide the labor among the staff to a certain extent and a few have a coach in a booth upstairs that communicates with the bench, Maurice said that his assistants probably have more autonomy in their own given area than they would elsewhere.
“We’re all good at certain things,” he said. “It takes you a little while until you get a little bit of experience in the NHL before you can admit that there’s things you’re good at and things you need help with. What Jim has done is that he knows me very, very well and has structured people around so that we can all benefit from each other’s strengths.”
Francis, who was brought in occasionally as a consultant on the power play before joining the staff full-time, now has complete control over a unit that is converting at a 20 percent rate since he joined the staff, as opposed to just 13 percent beforehand.
“We’re in a unique situation in that we have somebody like Ron who’s a power play specialist, but that’s all secondary,” said Maurice. “If you can’t explain it and you can’t communicate an idea to a hockey team, then it doesn’t matter what you know. He has the gift and he’s a great communicator.”
Barrasso’s work can be seen in the improved play of goaltender Cam Ward, who recently won the NHL’s third star of the week award and is enjoying one of his most consistently strong stretches since winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP in 2006.
“There’s no question that he’s helped me out a lot,” said Ward of Barrasso. “He’s got a very good understanding of the position and he’s good at teaching it throughout practice. After every game we go over video and look at areas I can always improve upon, and he does a good job of putting together some good practice drills to really help me.
“I think you’re starting to see it in the games where the hard work in practices is starting to pay off."
When asked about the improved play of defenseman Anton Babchuk over the last several weeks, Maurice was quick to credit Rowe for the player’s transition from healthy scratch to contributor at both ends of the ice.
“A perfect example of our division of labor,” Maurice said. “I think Tom Rowe has done a great job with the defensemen and built their confidence by teaching them positioning. Overall as a group, when your forwards play better defensively, guys like Anton look more effective and they build their own confidence, and that’s the way it goes. That’s why this whole thing comes together.”
With five full-time coaches – up from just three a few years ago – the staff isn’t lacking in quantity. With a combined total of 3,392 games played, four Stanley Cups and six All-Star appearances as players, it isn’t lacking in quality, either.
“It obviously helps,” said Williams. “They’re not going to bring in Tom from Cary to do it, they’re going to bring in the best available, and those guys definitely know their stuff and have the rings to show for it.”