Rod Brind’Amour’s take on the playoff format, empty arena games and his training camp plan

With the NHL announcing its plans to return this summer, we caught up with Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour to see how he’s approaching the unconventional postseason.

In an appearance on ESPN on Ice this week, Brind’Amour discussed why his team was one of two to vote against the 24-team format, how he’ll handle the return of European players, his thoughts on drawing the New York Rangers in the first round, the impact of crowdless games and, of course, what a post-pandemic training camp looks like under the guidance of Rod the Bod.

ESPN: What’s your reaction to the 24-team format?

Brind’Amour: Well, I mean, hopefully it happens and it’ll be great. I think the easiest thing was getting this part done, quite frankly. I mean, I think we all kind of figured this out — whether it was 16 teams or 20 teams or 24 or everybody. I mean, that seems to be the easy thing. The hard part now, to me, is going to be how they figure all this out logistically. That’s the work in progress part. I think it is going to be interesting how it all shakes out.

ESPN: Jordan Martinook admitted you guys were one of the teams that didn’t vote for the NHLPA’s approval of this format. From what I gather, it has to do with the fact that you guys are a wild-card team and this format does not give you much benefit for your accomplishments in the regular season.

Brind’Amour: Well, I think that’s pretty clear. First of all, his comments are dead-on. We want to play. And we understood that there might have been some teams, you know — whether 16 or 18 — you understood that that was really the issue. I think the bigger issue, especially for our guys, was what was the 68 games we played for? What did we grind for? The bulk of the season was completed, and they just threw that out. And I think that’s how they felt. I think that’s a little bit justifiable in a way. Why not carry the points over that you had?

I think that the thought was if you’re playing in five, six, seven games, we could easily have all had the same amount of games, figured that out. That would’ve been your play-in, and then take your points with you and see how you end up. That’s probably the way that I think the guys felt would be fair, I guess is the best way to put it.

But we understand. Nobody really cares. At the end of the day, they want to see hockey. We want to get back to playing. Is it the best way to do it? Probably not, in my opinion. But I hope we can play. And once they get this format figured out — as far as not the format necessarily but how we’re going to do it — nobody is going to talk about this. Whether it’s fair or not fair, it doesn’t matter. We’re moving on and we’re going to try to do our best.

ESPN: Do you have any injured players that you think could come back?

Brind’Amour: We were one of those teams that — we had a lot of injuries actually at the end, even though we were playing pretty well. Dougie Hamilton was out. He’ll probably be able to return now, especially if we don’t start until when it sounds like.

So he’ll definitely be ready to go. That’s a huge bonus. And then we traded for Sami Vatanen at the trade deadline, but he was actually injured and we kind of thought he was gonna be able to play. We were told he was going to be able to play, but he wasn’t. So he would have been iffy at best had we started [at the regularly scheduled time]. And now that takes that out of the equation. So that’s an interesting one, just because we’ve never seen him play with us or practice even. That is a wild card, but that’s a pretty good wild card. I like having that one in the hole there.

So those two guys, that’s a big addition. Brett Pesce went down for the year. That’s a long, long shot because his injury was almost a six-month injury. But if you go back to when we did it — and I think it was in March when he had a surgery — suddenly now you start thinking, well, maybe, who knows? How does it look if he’s available? So that one is more of a long shot. But for sure, those two guys I mentioned, Dougie and Sami, it will be interesting to see how that works out, where they’re at when we get ready to go.

ESPN: I have to ask you about this return to training facilities that’s gonna be happening within the next couple of weeks. What are your expectations for that? It’s voluntary for the players. Very small groups of guys can be there at the same time. You can’t be on the ice, right?

Brind’Amour: Right. Well, the league sent out a pretty intense protocol, and I’m like, how are we going to do that? How are you going to manage that and figure that out? Bring in people to monitor the people coming in the door. And just to me, it’s just a lot. And as a group we’re trying to figure that out. It’s going to be interesting, obviously. But the stuff you have to do, the times, they are what they are. Trying to navigate, it sounds really like there’s really nothing the coaches can do, so it’s up to the players to figure out how they’re gonna go for a while.

I think really what we need, to be quite honest, is some dates. We need some dates as far as, OK, training camp’s going to start on this date. Do you really want guys coming in? If we’re talking July 15 as a training camp, we’re not even in June yet. You know, you’ve gotta remember, for me, the bigger issue is guys away from their families and stuff like, I mean, that’s to me the biggest issue here.

Guys in Europe, are they coming back? Do you have to quarantine them? Are they going to be away from their families that whole time? Then they should probably stay home until the last minute because this could be a long run, hopefully. To me, that’s the bigger concern that we’re trying to figure.

But until you have a date, then it’s kind of hard to really sink your teeth into planning for that stuff. But really my major concern honestly is just the guys and how they’re gonna handle their families. And no one’s really figured that out. So that’s the big question.

ESPN: How many guys are around the Raleigh area right now that you do believe will be able to participate in Phase 2?

Brind’Amour: I think right about now we have about eight guys that stayed, pretty much from the get-go didn’t go anywhere. I mentioned Dougie Hamilton. He was injured, so he was rehabbing. So he is the one guy that is still trying to kind of go through the daily routine. Everyone else is kind of doing their own thing and waiting for things to open up. So we have a decent amount of guys around here.

Again, those guys I’m less concerned about, it’s the guys that are far away that have to travel here. What are the restrictions to be put on when they do get here? Because that’s the planning part. And if you have to quarantine a guy for two weeks, well, then he better get here sooner than later. But then my other point was, if you’re going to be away from your family for that long, how is this all going to shake out? So those are the issues that are not even hockey-related that are really the biggest concern.

ESPN: You draw the Rangers in the first round, who went 4-0 against you this season. Does that matchup give you pause?

Brind’Amour: The stats don’t look very good. And if you pull up the last 40 games we’ve played them, that doesn’t look good either. Trust me, you don’t have to look them up. I’ll tell you, I think we’re like 9-31 or something. That’s not a good stat.

Then if you want to really pinch the numbers a little bit and watch the games — obviously, we’ve already done that — but three of the four games, I thought we were the better team this year. So, again, it’s a bit skewed. And does it really matter when we hit the playoffs? I’m not sure. I mean, we went against Washington last year in the playoffs and we were 0-3-1 when we hit them [and won the series in seven games].

I think they’ll say the same thing. It’s a whole new season. And it is. I mean, this is literally a whole new season when and if we get going. So I think you can throw a lot of that out the window.

ESPN: The NHL still has to decide if it will reseed after the first round or go bracket style. Do you have a preference?

Brind’Amour: I don’t care. I’ll be quite honest with you. I guess this goes back to your first question and the comments Martinook made. The hardest thing about winning the Stanley Cup is getting into the playoffs. That’s your first stage. We play 82 games, you go seven months or six months to get into that, then I think it’s wide open. I mean, I think getting in is the hardest thing.

So they’ve established that 24 teams essentially have gotten in, in my opinion. You can reseed, you can do whatever you want. I really don’t know that it’s going to make much difference. Especially when you’re taking away — well, I think you would take away — home-ice advantage. There’s just so many other variables now that are popping in that I don’t think that it matters much.

ESPN: It’s crazy to me to think about you guys going on a postseason run and not having that crowd. I can’t even conceive what that’s like because you feed off of it, and it’s such a part of what the Hurricanes are right now.

Brind’Amour: Yeah. That, to me, is something that hasn’t been talked about enough. I think that’s just a big, big factor. In our sport, especially, I don’t know, maybe I’m a little biased. But the emotional impact that that has, especially playoff hockey, in a building in the NHL is something special. And it’s hard to weigh it. It’s hard to tell you how much impact it has on the game, you know.

And I do think the competitive nature of the players will kind of take over at some point. But I think there’s going to be a big lull at the start of these games. And it’s gonna be interesting to see if it carries over or does that competitive nature fire up the guys? It’s kind of like you do when you’re playing in the summer. There’s nothing on the line, and kids are fighting each other just over a Gatorade, you know what I mean? Like, I just wonder how, when and if that all kicks in.

But it’s going to be really tough, I think, at first to play when there’s absolutely zero emotion in the building.

ESPN: What does a Rod Brind’Amour pandemic training camp look like? How tough is this conditioning? What can the guys expect?

Brind’Amour: That’s a good question. There’s no [conditioning] testing, from what I’ve read. I read that right away. So the players got that in right away. They knew. They were smart. They don’t want any part of that. And I agree. That’s good.

I think it’s going to be way different, only because it’s not like a training camp where you got 50 guys and you have three weeks to practice and then play six meaningless games in preseason and you got all that buildup before things start ramping up. It’s going to be way more, almost as if you just pick up where you left off. You can’t come out of the gate and go hard, you’ll have to ramp it up. I’ll have to rely a lot on my strength coaches to say how are we going to do this, because I think I’d probably err on being a little too aggressive at the beginning.

But it’s all about peaking right away at the first game. I can’t see that they’re going to play a bunch of meaningless games.

ESPN: Can you allow yourself to get excited about this, knowing that there’s so much uncertainty left to be settled?

Brind’Amour: I think initially it was excitement, just because it felt like, “Oh, it’s going to happen.” You watch the press conference and you say “Oh, it looks pretty exciting. We’re going to have some hockey.” The next day, we’re figuring out how we’re going to do all of this, and then I’m like, “Oh my gosh. How is this actually going to work?”

And then this is just us here, with the variables you can control, you know, putting all these people and teams in a place and, how are you going to work out? Where are you going to go? Where are you going to stay? What’s the practice like? All the questions just start coming in and you’re like, “I’ve no idea how that’s going to work.”

So somebody, I assume, is trying to figure this out. To me, that’s the hardest part. Figuring out the format, like I said, I think that’s pretty easy to do. But now the work begins for everybody to try to figure out how we can make this work.