Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan (21) scores a goal against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling (33) during the shootout of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Hurricanes 2-1. Ross D. Franklin AP
Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan (21) scores a goal against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling (33) during the shootout of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Hurricanes 2-1. Ross D. Franklin AP

Carolina Hurricanes

If Hurricanes are going to make a change, it has to come soon

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

November 05, 2017 08:48 AM

RALEIGH

After mustering only one goal in a shootout loss to the worst team in the NHL, with the annual Thanksgiving standings-lock less than three weeks away, the Carolina Hurricanes are in the danger zone. It’s time to wonder whether the status quo, whether that’s on the coaching staff or on the roster, is going to get the job done.

After taking one point from bottom-feeding Arizona, the Hurricanes are in last place in the Metropolitan Division, 1-4-2 in their past seven, four points out of a playoff spot and trending the wrong way. There’s still time – the Hurricanes have a couple games in hand – but the two wild-card teams both have a positive goal differential; the Hurricanes are minus-5.

The question is whether general manager Ron Francis and owner Peter Karmanos will decide to do anything about it.

The easiest and most obvious fix is a coaching change. Bill Peters is clearly a good hockey coach, but the way the team is playing, it’s fair to wonder whether his message is getting through. Even the best hockey coaches have limited shelf lives, and Peters spent the first three years of his tenure grinding blood out of a stone. Even good coaches can go stale. Is anyone still listening at this point?

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Certainly, Peters made his own bed with the ridiculous co-captaincy – and picking two guys who were passed over last year – and his distrust of Jeff Skinner has kept him from getting the most out of the team’s most talented player. With all the ex-Blackhawks added, Peters has as many fingerprints on the roster as Francis.

But it’s hard to say it’s entirely Peters’ fault. When Karmanos said this team had “four No. 2 centers” who did he think the other three were? This team is weak down the middle and has too many perimeter wingers, and Peters has so far been unable to fix that. Where the blame lies is open for debate, but not the results.

Since the Hurricanes didn’t leave Phoenix with Dave Tippett on the plane, it seems like no coaching change is immediately forthcoming. And even though Tippett is a former Whalers teammate of Francis, the general manager has made it clear at this point in his tenure that dramatic moves aren’t his style. He still has yet to make a challenging player-for-player trade and a coaching change in November doesn’t fit his patient pattern of action.

Francis signed off on the co-captaincy. He brought in the players Peters wanted. He couldn’t find a way to upgrade at center. These early season struggles are on him as much as they are on Peters.

The problem is, the Hurricanes are running out of time to be patient. The standings are well on their way to coagulating. By Thanksgiving, they’ll essentially be set. If there’s going to be a change, even a change in performance if nothing else, it has to come soon, or it won’t matter at all.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock