At the end of each season, the Carolina Hurricanes hold a press conference which allows the media to ask questions to the head coach and general manager. On Wednesday, Cory and I attended this season's event.
I will paraphrase much of what was said, but will insert some exact quotes here and there and will also add my opinions about a few things as well.
This year, it seemed like a sparsely attended event with more empty chairs than full. Chip and Luke from the N&O attended and there were reps from each local television station. Of course Mike Maniscalco was there and a couple of other local writers besides us, but I believe most of the rest in attendance were Hurricane employees.
Ron Francis started off the presser by thanking fans and sponsors and by saying that he was disappointed in the season. But he felt like there were some positives to take and that the team is trending in the right way.
The first question to Ron, what went wrong? Why did the team not make the playoffs?
The GM replied that the slow start went a long ways to dooming the season. He gave three reasons for the slow start.
1. He's not sure the team trusted the new system right out of the gate.
2. Unique injuries, high end guys were out.
3. Goaltending was not great in October
Francis went on to speak a bit about the lack of depth and that the injuries exposed this. They will continue to work on it, but it takes time. The team struggled to score goals 5-on-5 and they need to figure out how to solve that problem going forward.
Question to RF: What pieces are missing from the team to make it a playoff contender?
The GM responded that he needs to look at the back end. They need to replace Sekera. They also need to figure out why they have trouble scoring goals. They will spend time assessing that going forward.
Question to coach BP: What about the problem of the team continually not starting on time?
Peters responded that he did not feel it was an issue, especially at home, for the most part. "Some people equate not starting on time, when the team is down 1-0 after one period, but we did start on time, we just didn't score". The coach went on to say he did not agree with the questioner, he felt the starts by the team were adequate.
Question to RF: What kind of affect does this kind of playoff drought have on players? Do you believe that the guys that you count on to get the job done, are good enough, at this stage of the game?
It's certainly tough to miss the playoffs. "Bill and I have been at this less than a year, but we both take some of the brunt of what happened here previously". (In other words, we both stepped into a huge mess and it will take time to dig out). He still feels the team is trending in the right direction. Last season the biggest complaint he heard was that the team was not competing on a night in and night out basis. But that issue has been resolved. We lost 27 one goal games and 16 in regulation. We lost another 7 games that became two goal games because of a late empty net goal. I think that's about 40 losses where the compete was there. Now at the end of the day they are still losses and we still have to find a way to win those games.
To answer your question, yes we have to look at everything, core included. There are areas we have to get better in. If someone is not buying into what we are trying to do, then we have to move them to make our team better.
Question to BP: Is the talent level where you want it to be at?
We are right there when everyone is healthy and in the lineup. We lack depth when injuries hit us. In January and February I felt like we played really well. After the trade deadline, obviously things were different. We played with a lot of kids on the backend and it's tough in this league when you put kids in that position. Ronnie talked about fixing the backend. We traded two good players, Sekera and Gleason, so to start, we'd like to get two similar players back. Then to add some depth. The immediate need is to get some defensemen. Scoring is down across the league and that is another responsibility, is to figure out how to score. You need your D to transition the puck out of your end quickly, so you're not wasting time.
Question to RF: This team does not have many players with playoff experience. Do you think this team understands what it takes to make the playoffs and does that need to be addressed?
I think they certainly want to get there and want to play in them. It's a process for younger players to understand what it takes. During the exit interviews, Bill and I hammered home the importance of starting the season better. A lot of teams made the playoffs this year because of points earned in October and November. It's really important to be ready right out of the gate. Can we add more experience? Absolutely, and if we can, we will.
Question to RF: Can you assess how you feel the coaching staff did?
I thought the coaching staff did a great job. You start 0-6-2, but Bill never changed his message. The team never quit down the stretch. There was improvement in the powerplay and penalty killing. Improvement in structure. (RF does not expect any changes to the staff next season.)
Question to BP: Can a player be taught to go to the front of the net or does it have to be in a player's DNA? They have it or they do not?
It's better if it's in their DNA, believe me. We didn't score enough of those types of goals, within 10-15 feet of the net. This can be taught to a certain degree but there has to be a willingness and ability to get there. Defensmen are getting paid to keep you out of there, there's a physical price to be paid to get there. But I tell you what, there will be a heavy emphasis on that in training camp. Looking at the 16 teams in the playoffs, 13 of them were in there at Thanksgiving. The start next year, in the exit meetings was emphasized and there will be some very intense competition because we have guys fighting for spots. And we have some guys who left the door open to take their jobs also. So our plan is to get ourselves off to a good start and get into the top 8 in our conference and stay in that position.
Question to both: Any reason why Alex Semin had the problems he had over the course of the season?
BP starts off..."I read the paper, you read the paper, he came off a wrist injury. I just know the importance of the offseason, especially as you age, and I know the league is not slowing down". Kids come in the league younger and stronger and backchecking is at an all time high. So if you are not keeping the pace of the game, I don't know how you can play it. The summer for our guys is huge. Everyone knows the emphasis on their game. They have to get quicker and stronger. The older you get, the harder it becomes, so our older guys know that.
Question to RF: To followup, where are you with this guy? Is he a lost cause? Will there be a buy-out?
We will certainly look at all the options we have going forward. We will have those discussions and make a decision which is best for the organization.
Question to RF: Is he a negative influence in the locker room?
I don't get that sense, that he's a negative influence or dragging anyone in that direction. In my interaction with the players, it doesn't seem like the locker room is an issue.
Question to BP: This past summer, Dobby and Ward were fighting to be number one goalie. Will that continue?
They are both capable guys but I thought Cam Ward had a great year for us. He did a good job last summer to get in shape and get healthy. I thought David Marcoux did a great job with both guys. The main thing that separates both goalies is Cam's ability to handle the puck. He alleviates a lot of forecheck pressure. It's an under-rated part of the game.
Question to RF and BP: Eric Staal's contract will expire soon, has he done enough as captain to earn another long term deal and how much of a priority is it to get something done with him?
Yes, I think we always have to look at these situations. Eric has one year left. He was our leading scorer, our leading goal scorer. Would you like to have more, yes you would. He would tell you himself that he'd like to have 30 goals. We will have discussions regarding this situation. As everyone is aware, he has a no movement clause, so he will control a lot of that. He does like it here and wants to be part of the solution. He wants to get back to the playoffs. So we will have those discussions over the summer and see where they take us.
BP chips in: Regarding what Ron speaks about I cannot get into it. But I will say he's an excellent captain, an outstanding captain. When we were down bodies, he had a broken foot and stayed in the lineup. That goes a long way. He could have easily pulled himself out of the lineup. He played through the injury. Finally, we started getting bodies back we gave him a rest when we could and he didn't practice but still played games. He did an excellent job. The room never got toxic. I give all those guys credit for sticking with it. I used him as a center and as a winger. His powerplay numbers were better. He averaged just under 20 minutes. He's a passionate guy, proud man and he provided great leadership for us this year.
Question for BP: How tough was this job this season and were there any players that impressed you or were better than what you thought?
You think you know these guys from watching them or coaching against then but until you get into the trenches, you really don't. That will help me going forward next season. The guys that impressed...Victor Rask had 30 points and will play in the World Championships. He did a great job on the point, for a rookie. He's only going to continue to get stronger. Lindy did well. When we picked up Nesty, he gave us another big body. Ryan Murphy came back from the minors and did well. If he does what he says he will do this summer he will come back better than ever next season.
(They both talk about Justin Faulk next and sing his praises). He's going to be a legit number one guy. He's probably a number 2 right now at this stage of his career. His progression in his career, I think it's a rocketship. He's an elite young player.
Question to RF: Have you talked with Peter Karmanos about the team's budget and can you take advantage of other team's cap troubles to patch some holes here?
The last time Mr. Karmanos was in town, we spoke a bit about it but he felt it was too early to delve into it. We had a phone call the other day and plan to have that meeting, potentially next week, once I get back from Switzerland and the U-18 tournament. We'll have that discussion and we'll look at all angles we need to fix, whether using a team's cap troubles to find players that way, or to make trades, or the right free agent at the right price. We'll look at all the angles and do what we need to do to fill the holes we need to fill.
Question to BP: Was the team playing the way you wanted it to do, down the stretch?
You always want more, but I liked the way the team was playing in January and February. I thought we were a little hit and miss coming down the stretch, at times. We were much further ahead than we were in September. That's the encouraging thing, the exciting thing. We are starting at a much higher level and the guys are excited about it. The guys want to win and they want to win in this market. They know how good a hockey town this really is and we have passionate fans.
(quote of the day)
They are unhappy about where they are at. And all those articles you see, Pittsburgh loses to the lowly Canes, or the hapless Canes beat so and so...those articles are all on my desk, you can come and look at them. That's going to motivate them. I know it motivates me, it will motivate the guys. And we talk about this player or that player. I'm going to play the best 12 forwards, the best six D, and the best goalie coming out of camp, that will allow us to get off to a good start. I don't care if the guy is in the last year of his deal, or he is making 700 or 7 million. The guys who deserve to play and who will give us the best chance to win coming out of the gate, are the guys who will wear a Hurricanes jersey on the ice.
Question to RF: In the past, the message was that we are close, we are close, we are close. Is your opinion now that you are trying to build something, rather than try to bridge a narrow gap?
I think we said last year that we felt that we had a good enough team to compete for a playoff spot. We didn't get a chance to do that right out of the gate. I think at times we showed that we are a darn good team. But the message from day one was to make sure that we keep a long term vision for this franchise. We have to do what is best for this organization in the long term. I don't want to get to the playoffs for one year, then miss the next four. When we get to the playoffs I want to make sure we are there every year. That's always been our vision and our plan to develop that way.
After the press conference we each had a chance for some one on one questions. I asked Bill Peters a couple of quickies and you might find his answers to be very interesting.
Question to BP: Coach, over the course of the season you switched your lines up a lot. Obviously, part of the reason was because of injuries but in a perfect world, would you always be changing up your lines or would you prefer to keep them set?
No, no, I would prefer to have set, consistent lines. Like you said, we had injuries to deal with and plus I needed to see who played well with who. And to be perfectly honest with you, we were showcasing guys at times for trades, and possible trades before the deadline, you know what I mean. I thought our best line was Staal, Staal, and Lindy.
Follow up question: Will that be your number one line to start next season? Will you keep the brothers together or have them play center on two lines, say 1A and 1B?
I'm not going to comment on players for next season yet. There is a lot that can happen. I'm not sure who we will have on the team. We need a top defenseman, right? If we want a top defenseman, we will have to offer a top forward in trade? Right? We will see what we have next season and take it from there.
My final thoughts are that it was a pretty informative press conference for the most part. Bill Peters continues to say all the right things. Ron Francis said as much as he could but continues to hold his cards close to his chest, which is his style.
While Peters endorsed Eric Staal as a great captain, Francis seemed vague when speaking about extending his contract. When asked, he said that Eric has a no-movement clause and holds some power in this. What would a no-movement clause have to do with a new contract?
When RF says that anything and everything is on the table, I believe it.
(Listen to the entire press conference here)