As the team takes the summer off to hit the fairway and witness peers reach their playoff fate, the Carolina Hurricanes have shown the capability to blossom into a compelling, fast-paced team. However, they need help executing.
There were times this season that the Hurricanes played like they were in playoff contention. Other times, their mundane energy had them looking like the front-runners for the McDavid sweepstakes—neither happened.
"We’ve shown flashes throughout this season of a team that, when healthy and playing right, can be a playoff team," Eric Staal said addressing the media. "But overall, there are things that need to be fixed and get better. That’s evident by our record. So we’ll try to get better over the summer and come back hungry next season."
As management made moves to brush up a "rebuild"- a transition period, more or less- there are pieces to the puzzle that fit. Chris Terry, Brad Malone, Jay McClement, Justin Faulk, Victor Rask, and Andrej Nestrasil have all been significant assets. Unfortunately, letting go of pending free agents like Andrej Sekera was part of moving forward.
Rask’s much-needed presence filled a void from Jordan Staal’s absence due to a broken leg, as he managed 30 points in his rookie campaign.
Faulk has certainly developed and made himself a subject in the conversation of elite defenseman obtaining all-star credentials while putting up 49 points this season. Though he’s not a number one defenseman quite yet, he’s only 23.
At 5 ft 5 in, the 180-pound Nathan Gerbe shows might that will give you a run for your money while toppling players monolithic in comparison. While proving to be a workhorse, he shows his competitive nature in each stride.
As one of the premier up-and-comers of the organization, Elias Lindholm can often be found at a finishing point on the ice or feeding the execution. The 20-year-old league sophomore recorded his first hat trick and 39 points in 81 games and exhibits potential to be in the league’s top tier.
Cam Ward had a resurgent season with a .910 save percentage and 2.40 goals against average in 51 games. Ward also reached 500 NHL starts.
The problem is the aforementioned players don’t get reciprocal effort from teammates on a game-to-game basis.
"There’s a lot of skill on this team but I think it’s more becoming responsible hockey players in all areas of the ice," Faulk said. "The systems are there and I think they’re good systems. It’s just doing it on a consistent basis."
Inconsistency is the pattern, as players and goalies alike struggled to hit their stride.
As management claims, though they say it’s no excuse, that struggle comes from plaguing injuries. "Everybody has injuries. But I do think it was unique in the sense that we had high-end guys out, and all at the same time," Francis said.
However, General Manager Ron Francis also mentioned - hitting the nail on the head - that the teams' injuries "exposed their lack of depth," which is an area they plan to remedy.
In a season where an excess of 25 one-goal games were lost and 30.8 shots per game were taken but resulted in 27th in goals for per game, they are looking for solutions.
"We’ve got to find the answer for why we couldn’t score goals," Francis said.
Adapting to a coach’s system and buying into what he has to offer doesn’t happen overnight. "When you're not getting results, not getting wins, that makes it harder to get the buy-in," head coach Bill Peters said.
Peters also mentioned in his end of season media availability that 13 of the 16 teams in the playoffs now were in the top eight of their conference on November 27.
"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," Peters said. "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."
Executing out of the gate is vital, as many could agree the hole they dug themselves early on was implausible to escape.
The unsynchronized 0-6-2 start didn’t stagger the rookie head honcho behind the bench. A stern, first-year head coach from the get-go --scratching Alexander Semin for a number of games -- was determined to build trust and respect among his players while sustaining his coaching system.
As the trust started to build, the results came.
"The way we finished this season made me feel good about where we’re at and where we’re headed, " Jordan Staal said. "The way we played our system and learned the way we need to play for our coach and what he demands of us, you could tell that we’ve had a more consistent game. "
It’s a process and Francis believes optimistically that they are on the right path.
The question of what decision will be made regarding Eric Staal’s contract that expires next summer still stands. Francis is aware of Staal’s desire to still be part of the future and their upswing, if and when it comes.
Determining what action to take with the Semin situation is an immediate factor as well. With many believing a buy-out should be in order, is a frugal owner likely to make that decision? It’s a messy situation that is a topic for another time.
In the meantime, acquiring blue line supplements will be a primary focus for player personnel upgrades this offseason. Resolving the issue of getting pucks in the net should be earnestly undertaken.
Players will take part in their off-season training and return in September for training camp. New faces to the club are always anticipated after summer. On the contrary, Francis doesn’t deem it necessary to make wholesale changes and team members have noted that as well. The adaptation to Peters’ system and clear message should be second nature come the 2015-2016 season.
"The guys who deserve to play that are going to allow us to get wins coming out of the gate are going to be wearing the Carolina Hurricane uniform on the ice. Simple."