Jim Rutherford, President and General Manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, held a season ending press conference Wednesday morning at the RBC. Head Coach Paul Maurice also attended. Both gentlemen answered any and all questions posed to them from the local press.
You can watch most of the press conference on video at this link at CH.com.
I was able to attend and asked a couple of extra questions after the end of it. Here are my thoughts:
- You can expect Paul Maurice and his staff to return next year. Rutherford felt that Maurice did an extremely good job, considering the circumstances of last season. They might make a change in the coaching structure. Ron Francis might spend more time with the prospects in Charlotte. Tom Barrasso may spend more time behind the bench. Rutherford is also very happy with the work of Barrasso and Francis, as well as Jeff Daniels, and gives them all credit for the excellent performance of the prospects so far in the system.
- At some point in the near future, the Canes will probably have an exhibition game in Charlotte. They may even hold training camp down there. They are very happy with the marketing possibilities and are thrilled to have a bigger "footprint" in the state.
- Priorities this offseason--- Meet with Rod Brind`Amour and Ray Whitney during the next two weeks to discuss ideas. JR does not expect any conclusions within that two weeks but he wants to begin the process. Also, to get ready for the draft, which is a huge priority. He feels they will get a high quality player at number seven and there is no talk of moving up right now. They also feel they will get quality players in the second round as well. It's a deep draft and they feel very good about the possibilities.
- At this point, he would prefer not to trade any of the other forwards who are under contract. (Cole, Samsonov, LaRose) He likes them. But, he is concerned about the defense. If a good trade presented itself so that he could acquire the right experienced defenseman, he might make that trade.
- Brind'Amour discussions are "sensitive". It's tough for any professional hockey player to retire. They have been playing hockey since they were 5 years old and no one can make the decision easily. Brind'Amour has meant a lot to the franchise and he will make that call. When the time does come for him to retire, he will have a spot within the organization. That will be up to him.
- Rutherford does not "have" to wait for decisions from Whitney or Brind'Amour to move forward. While Whitney had a good year last season and played in the top six, at the end of the season Ruutu was out and he could take Whitney's spot if needed. Or, one of the younger players could take that spot. There are plenty of options.
Brian Pothier could be back, but it looks like Anton Babchuk is the first priority and is back on the radar screen. JR has been in contact with his agent a couple of times already and the defenseman wants to come back. If they can agree on the numbers, it looks like it will be a done deal. It sounded like there would not be room to sign both Pothier and Babchuk, but we will see.
- Goaltending decision will be made later. Liked both Legace and Peters very much. Legace needs an answer within a month or so because there is very high interest in him over in Russia.
- Regarding Cam Ward, Rutherford says that when you play the goaltending position you are always going to have knee and back issues. It depends upon how well you handle the "discomfort". Things seem good with Ward now, but he will have a lot of responsibility with his conditioning and workout programs over the offseason. And he still might continue to play 20-25 games in a row. It depends. Barrasso helps make that decision. But having a dependable backup will help a lot.
Tim Gleason needs some help with the "grit" on the blueline. Rutherford says that Jay Harrison might help him out. (Looks like this an endorsement for bringing back Harrison).
- The young players who make the team at the beginning of next season will not necessarily stay all season. They plan on rotating players as needed. Sometimes it helps a younger player's confidence to play in the minors. Ron Francis will help to make those decisions.
- Paul Maurice will speak to others to research how best to handle the trip to Helsinki and all the details regarding that.
- Coach looks forward to a younger team next year and "molding" them into what they need to be. He sees more skating, pressure, and forechecking next season with the younger legs. He doesn't want mistakes to happen because of "sitting back".
Eric Staal was injured much of the season. He transitioned to team captain very well. All of the vets embraced the younger kids this past season. If the kids are not accepted in the room, then they probably do not have success. The energy the kids brought to the ice can be felt on the bench. Some of them skated like it might be their last game in the NHL, and it showed.
- Rutherford says that the next Olympics in Russia will probably not have the same impact that this one did, but if players want to participate, the league should try to accommodate them.
- Ticket sales were down a bit and revenue was down this past season. Revenue sharing will probably also be down. But based upon the economy, the way the team played early in the year, and the fact the team missed the playoffs, it was a respectable year. In the past week, 2,000 people have expressed interest in attending the All Star game and 200-300 of those have resulted in season tickets so far. There is little doubt that the season ticketholder base will grow thanks to the All Star game.
- Even though next year could be considered a "rebuilding year", Rutherford expects the team to be good next season. They might be very good, they might not. It depends upon how fast they come together. He likes the core of players he has, along with the younger players, and at some time in the near future the team will be very good.
- Rutherford explained how he is a fan himself. He gets disappointed and upset after losses, just like fans. (But he does not call the radio talk show after the game).
- Budget will drop next season, but JR does not know by how much. He will definitely have room to add a player later in the season, if needed.
After the press conference I had a brief chance for a couple more questions.
Q: (To Paul Maurice) Due to injuries and other factors, Joni Pitkanen played a ton of minutes in several games, sometimes over 30. In a perfect world, how many minutes a game would you prefer to play him?
A: I think Joni is capable of playing 30 minutes a game on occasion. Obviously, he can't do it every game. I'd like to be able to drop him back to 25 after a night like that, but I honestly think he could handle league leading type of minutes, 27 to 28 minutes a game. I would like to see him shorten some of his shifts though.
Q: (To Jim Rutherford) A lot of people seemed very surprised that Ray Whitney was not traded at the trade deadline. Could you talk a bit about that? Why didn't it happen?
A: Well, as you know a lot of this is media driven. You have to be careful about that. But the fact that he was one of the top unrestricted free agents available, of course people are going to be surprised. I did have a deal with L.A. and he didn't want to go. It was a good deal for us, and it was also a good deal for Ray. But then as you get closer to the deadline and other players get in the mix, then there just wasn't a deal there that made sense. And there is a little bit more to it. In the back of my mind, I still thought we had a chance to make the playoffs. I know if I said that out loud back then, some people might say I was crazy, but in the back of my mind I still thought we had a chance.
Q: Does that experience, along with Niclas Wallin reportedly vetoing a couple of possible deals during the time of his contract, make you hesitate more before giving "no trade clauses", or "no movement clauses" in the future?
A: No, no, I will not be as free with them as I was, but you have to remember. Most of the guys that got those got them after we won the Stanley Cup. Now if we win the Cup again, I'll probably be freer with them again. (chuckles). But winning the Cup makes you feel different about it. And you almost owe certain players that. Like Roddy's contract. I gave him a five year contract at that age. I had no problem with it and I have no problem with it today because of what he did for the organization. Is he the player today that we had hoped he would be? No. Probably not, but I expected that it might happen.