When writing the postmortem on the 2013 Carolina Hurricanes, plenty of words will come to mind right away.
Snakebitten. Injury-riddled. Frustrating.
But to the guys in the locker room, who endured a season which, in multiple ways, was unlike any they've ever played, there's a common refrain that will define the team when the book is written on this season.
"I think it's the compete level," said Justin Faulk. "I don't think there have been many games where we haven't shown up to work. Everyone's still battling, still working hard."
After injuring his knee in late March, Faulk had the chance to watch the team from the sidelines, an opportunity he'd rather not have had but one that gave him a perspective on the team that would have been missed from the bench. He said that despite the tailspin that cost the Canes a playoff berth, the team never wavered, either in the room or on the ice.
"Guys were playing for each other, playing for the guy next to you. If you're playing in this league, you have to be committed. No one wants to be the guy out there not committed, not working hard."
Indeed, of the many things the Canes could be accused of being this season, hard-working has to be on the list. Even in the face of a pair of seven-game losing streaks, the Canes treated them as learning experiences, which Jiri Tlusty said served to harden the team to face the challenges that the shortened season threw at them.
"We were going through a tough stretch with the losses. With the way we played, we knew that if we didn't put the effort in, we didn't get the result. It's hard, but it's why you're playing NHL hockey."
But even hard work - or a lack thereof - didn't explain some of the really bizarre aspects of the season. Jordan Staal mistakenly putting the puck into his own net on a delayed penalty, giving Martin Brodeur a power-play goal. Jamie McBain whiffing on a clearing attempt and beating Justin Peters with a perfect backhander. Tuomo Ruutu hitting the post with a wide-open net staring him in the face. Dan Ellis kicking a tying goal into his own net.
With all that went wrong, sometimes it was easy to lose focus on what was going right. Ellis said that the message was simple, game in and game out, regardless of what the scoreboard showed.
"When we push the pace, when we have short shifts, when we play smart hockey, we have a chance to beat any team," said Ellis. "We've picked up points with a thin lineup. We've pushed, every single guy. You don't worry about the results. You focus on the process. You focus on the task at hand. The results take care of themselves."
With all the offensive firepower the Canes had at their disposal to start the year, the power play was not expected to be bottom-of-the-league caliber, to say nothing of the 27th-ranked penalty kill. But as the disappointment mounted on special teams, Ellis said, the focus on the numbers served to make a desperate team even more so.
"That just becomes a distraction, and doesn't allow you to focus on what you really need to do. You focus on the past instead of what your present goal is."
Next season, there will be changes. With Peters signed to a one-way contract, there is no guarantee Ellis will return. Trades are always a possibility, especially as the Canes look to preserve as much salary cap space as possible with the cap dropping to $64.3 million. Players from Charlotte will be expected to contribute, using some of the invaluable experience they gained in what turned out to be meaningless games down the stretch.
And even with all of the disappointments that defined the Canes in 2013, they have things to build on. Tlusty's career-high in points, despite a shortened season. Cam Ward returning to full health. Faulk's emergence as a do-it-all defenseman. A high draft pick - how high? we'll find out Monday - that gives hope for the future.
Kirk Muller at one point used the word "fragile" to describe his team's psyche seven times in the span of one press conference. Still, even with all the mental disappointments and the season that ended how no one expected, Muller was pleased with what his team put on the ice every night.
"I'm really proud of the guys. We haven't had the results that, I think, were deserving. There were a lot of games in the second half that I thought we deserved better."
It might be easy for a coach to say that, looking back on a hellacious final two months of the season that saw the Canes win just three times in their final 14 home games. But Muller, echoing Ellis, said that the work ethic was far from the culprit.
"One thing I don't think anyone can say is that there is any quit in these guys. They've been playing hard, and I think that's something that we're excited to see with the group."
"We're proud of them."