With Rod Brind'Amour's retirement today, he takes his place in the Hurricanes' front office alongside the two other icons of the team's decade-plus here, Ron Francis and Glen Wesley.
At some point soon, his No. 17 will join Francis’ No. 10 and Wesley’s No. 2 in the RBC Center rafters, and justly so. That trio built the foundation of the franchise in North Carolina, each in his own separate way.
Wesley was the rock who held together not only the defense but the team itself during the difficult transition from Hartford and those dismal days at the Greensboro Coliseum. Francis, by returning in 1999 to the franchise that once traded him away, legitimized the team as a free-agent destination at a time when that issue was very much up for debate.
And then there’s Brind’Amour, whose decision to re-sign with the Hurricanes in 2001, when the entire hockey world expected him to flee at his first opportunity, further established the Triangle as a place players wanted to live.
His diligence in the weight room set the tone for a generation of young players who now know no other way to train. His leadership in 2006, alternately steadying and rallying the team at key moments during the postseason with a deft and steady hand, was both underestimated and invaluable.
Nothing against Cam Ward, who was outstanding, but Brind’Amour should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that year. Ward’s goaltending heroics in the finals dazzled the national media that had previously ignored the Hurricanes. Those of us along for the entire crazy ride knew Brind’Amour was the real MVP. He got my vote.
Brind'Amour, Francis and Wesley all played important roles in the stabilization and incubation of hockey in a very non-traditional market. Given the current state of uncertainty surrounding the owner and the payroll, this franchise would be in much worse shape without their significant contributions.
" 'There's no way I'm staying here,' " Brind'Amour said today of his feelings upon his arrival in 2000. " 'The minute this deal is up, I'm out of here.' But I started to fall in love with it. ... It's come full circle, really. I'm proud to be a part of that."