The Carolina Hurricanes are approaching an offseason that may overhaul the franchise's central structure both on and off the ice.
The team's coaching staff could possibly be at the center of the restructuring, and current head coach Kirk Muller may be treading in water that has already boiled.
The resignation of general manager Jim Rutherford, 65, after 20 years on the job is expected to promote former All-Star player and current assistant GM Ron Francis, 51, to the job.
Little is known about Francis' experience in an executive position and the new mentality he will bring to the job; however, after five consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, it seems likely that a drastic reimagining of the 'Canes organization may be in the works.
Since taking over as head coach on Nov. 28, 2011, Muller has posted a 78-79-27 record (42.2 winning percentage) and has yet to finish higher than 12th in the Eastern Conference.
Expected to provide a more upbeat, motivational presence to the locker room compared to previous coach Paul Maurice, Muller's initial enthusiasm has faded to somber, redundant, cliche-ridden press conferences and an endless spiel about accountability.
In many ways, the 48-year-old coach has been sacrificed as a bridge between the depth-focused, low-spending "hometown team" Hurricanes of old and the wheeling-and-dealing, cap-pushing Hurricanes of today.
Just two players—Eric Staal and Cam Ward—remain from the 2006 Stanley Cup team; only three—Staal, Ward and Patrick Dwyer—from the 2009 Conference Finals run.
And interestingly enough, it is the names of Staal and Ward that highlight the list of potential chopping block items as Carolina seeks to enter a new, and hopefully more successful, era.
The team's identity is most certainly changing.
Two years ago, contention for top free-agent and trade-market items was an exciting and novel idea for Rutherford & Co. The brashness of the Jordan Staal trade and Alexander Semin signing reflected his brief, uncharacteristic lack of caution.
Perhaps Muller was unprepared to handle the big money items brought in the offseason following his first partial season in Raleigh.
He was hired as an up-and-coming coaching star to re-energize a young and stardom-lacking 2011-12 squad and managed to exceed expectations during his 57 games. The following offseason, the 'Canes abruptly changed mindsets, and Muller either missed or failed to receive notice about the fork in the road.
A couple of shockingly unsuccessful seasons later, the 'Canes front office must now apply the lessons they've learned from several years of reckless spending and demonstrate an ability to juggle contradictions between cap space and budget space.
The front office must also, if Muller is indeed shown the door, form a more cohesive tie between the organization's vision and its coaching staff's strengths.
John Tortorella, likely soon-to-be-fired Canucks boss and speculated Carolina coaching candidate, has dealt with more highly paid and star-laden teams than the current 'Canes. Rod Brind'Amour, another possible candidate, has seen Muller's struggles from a secondary role and dealt with his fair share of unmotivated teammates during his playing career.
On the other hand, Jeff Daniels, coach of the team's AHL affiliate in Charlotte, may not be as experienced with players of that prototype. Peter Laviolette, currently unemployed and hoping for a Lindy Ruff-esque comeback, won the Cup with a very balanced, down-to-earth Carolina squad but failed to do so with a star-laden Philadelphia club.
Every decision made in Raleigh this offseason should be done with a stable outlook of the team's current and future identity.
The 'Canes cannot afford to make another mistake behind the bench.
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