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Brind'Amour announces retirement after 21 seasons

by John Manasso
Rod Brind'Amour, the two-time Selke Award winner who captained the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup, announced his retirement Wednesday after 21 NHL seasons. He will join the team's front office in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.

Brind'Amour is the third high-profile player in recent weeks to announce his retirement, following defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Rob Blake. He finishes with 452 goals and 732 assists for 1,184 points in 1,484 games -- the 16th most in League history.

In terms of Brind'Amour's legacy, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said he sees the former captain as a future Hall of Famer who is one of two central figures -- along with Ron "Ronny Franchise" Francis -- who have made hockey a success in the nontraditional market.

"Any time you win the award for best defensive forward in back-to-back years you're right up there with the best of them," Rutherford said. "I'm not on that committee, but I'd suspect he's headed for the Hall of Fame. ... Those two back-to-back years were really special."

While Carolina faced its struggles in relocating south from Hartford -- temporarily spending two seasons in Greensboro, 80 miles away from Raleigh, while the 'Canes' current arena was being completed -- the organization played to 90.1 percent capacity in the four seasons following the lockout entering this past season.

"Everything the way it got started here, I thought, 'There's no way I'm staying here. As soon as this deal's up, I'm out,' " Brind'Amour recalled on Wednesday. "But the organization treated me just great from Day One. ... The fan base was starting to learn the game. Now you look at it, it's a great place to play. It's just come full circle, really. I was glad to be a part of that."

Said Rutherford: "People used to ask what we were doing here. Now this is a legitimate major-league sports town and a hockey town. ... We all saw what he did as a player, but there were so many things he did away from the arena and part of that was growing the sport. I can't put any figure on what that means to the franchise, other than he was one of the major players in the growth of hockey here."

And Rutherford said because of the respect that Brind'Amour commanded as a captain, any time Brind'Amour brought an issue to Rutherford, the general manager knew it was serious.

"He wasn't knocking on your door every week saying, 'We need this or that,' " Rutherford said. "He took care of a lot of things himself. But if I called Rod and asked him a question or pulled him in my office or he pulled me aside, I knew it was really important."
Because of that respect factor, Rutherford said ultimately choosing to buy out the final year on Brind'Amour's contract was the most difficult situation he has had to deal with other than the death of former player Steve Chiasson.

During his career, Brind'Amour proved himself as a paragon of physical conditioning, ranking among the NHL's top forwards in ice time as a 37-year-old. Rutherford laughed Wednesday in recounting how, shortly after being traded to Carolina from Philadelphia in January 2000 in exchange for Keith Primeau, Brind'Amour dug his way out of 20 inches of snow with a Coke bottle and his bare hands to get to the rink so he could work out.

Early in his career, Brind'Amour was nearly a 100-point scorer on top Philadelphia teams -- he made the NHL All-Rookie team in 1990 with St. Louis and played in the 1992 All-Star Game as a Flyer -- but later in his career he transitioned into one of the League's top two-way forwards.

Entering this past season, his career faceoff percentage was 59.0 percent -- establishing his place among the best of his era -- and that made him a huge asset to coaches Paul Maurice and Peter Laviolette during two runs to the Stanley Cup Final with the Hurricanes in 2002 and 2006. He also played in a Cup Final with Philadelphia in 1997, totaling a playoff-high of 13 goals that year, which ended in a four-game sweep at the hands of Detroit.

"Any time you win the award for best defensive forward in back-to-back years you're right up there with the best of them," said. "I'm not on that committee, but I'd suspect he's headed for the Hall of Fame. ... Those two back-to-back years were really special."
-- GM Jim Rutherford on Rod Brind'Amour

Despite the work ethic that kept him in top physical shape, Brind'Amour's performance declined the past two seasons, leading to a reduction in effectiveness and ice time. Rutherford said after Brind'Amour tore the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 14, 2008, he thought the player was never the same.

"I do think his knee injury set him back a little bit," he said. "It wasn't anything anyone saw coming. It was a major knee injury and he still did some good things after that, but he wasn't as good as he was prior to the knee injury. If he didn't have it, he very well might've still been playing."

And that was the hardest part for Brind'Amour to accept.

"I think the tough thing is maybe I've taken care of myself," Brind'Amour said. "The tough part is that I wish I could say, 'I feel this' or 'This doesn't feel right.' ... In general, I came in to do our testing [at last year's training camp], I think I was one of the best guys in shape and really better than any of the years. That worked against me because there's no reason [for the drop-off in performance]. On the ice, you might slow down a little. Deep down I think I could still play."

Brind'Amour finished minus-23 in the regular season in 2008-09 on a team that reached the Eastern Conference finals and totaled only one goal and three assists in 18 games, as Carolina's surprising run fell short at the hands of eventual Cup champion Pittsburgh.

This past season Brind'Amour's minus-29 rating ranked among the worst in the League and his ice time fell below 13 minutes per game -- a reduction of almost 11 minutes per game compared to the 2005-06 season when Carolina won the Cup. Brind'Amour also lost his captaincy to Eric Staal during the season, igniting the team to a highly successful second half after Carolina had floundered through the first 40 or more games. Throughout, Brind'Amour did not make a public fuss and accepted the situation for the team's betterment.

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