RALEIGH — No one around the Carolina Hurricanes will ever admit to being completely happy with how this season turned out. After all, as Justin Williams told the media yesterday as the players made their year-end rounds, only one team wins their final game and goes away completely satisfied; 30 others have to-do lists of varying lengths that they want to address in the hopes that they’ll end the following season as that one team.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s a recognition of when things went well, and as Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour and general manager Don Waddell met the media Tuesday at PNC Arena, the prevailing mindset around the club is satisfaction with what the team achieved, but a knowledge that the job isn’t done.
In fact, it’s only beginning.
“Everything that we wanted to do — and Willy was a huge part of that, Jordan [Staal], Justin [Faulk] — it changed the way we approached games, the way we did everything,” said Brind’Amour. “I can’t, as a coach, ask for any more than I got out of those guys. Now we have to turn the page and do it again. We have to get even better, get even more out of everything. That’s the challenge.
“It is going to be harder. When you start [at the bottom], there’s only really one way to go, so it’s not that hard. Now, what we want to do is raise the expectations of the group and the organization. You always want to keep going.”
Brind’Amour, who earlier said that the Hurricanes had overachieved to get to the Eastern Conference Final in the first place, said that he was very aware that the one thing that cost them more than anything against the Bruins was the special-teams failings, which were numerous and frequent. But at the same time, perhaps unsurprising given the well-documented tight bond within the locker room, he believes that the answers are in the room right now.
That’s to say that he wants to bring back as many players as he can - more on that in a second - but it also speaks to the way that everyone around the team, from coaches to players to support staff to the front office, was pulling in the same direction.
“We had good people around. You go in that room - from our training staff, to our weight room, strength - everything we have down there is dead on. It’s as good as you can do.”
And as a first year head coach, Brind’Amour knew that he would need to rely on the counsel of the staff around him. While reluctantly admitting that he did a good job, and for a person generally not given to self-promotion that was quite the admission, Brind’Amour said that the rest of the club provided him with the platform to take as many steps forward as a first-year coach as he did this season.
Assistant coaches Dean Chynoweth and Jeff Daniels will remain in their positions next year, Brind’Amour said, and with two years left on his own deal, Waddell said that Brind’Amour “is fine for right now,” implying that there wouldn’t be a renegotiation or extension in the immediate future. For his part, Brind’Amour said that he would “be a better coach, if I’m still around, in two or three years” - a bit of levity that caused Waddell to snicker.
There was a recognition that the Hurricanes had a special mix this season, and they are going to make an effort to bring back as many players as they can, while recognizing that players like Micheal Ferland are likely to at least test the water in free agency. “The highest priority is making sure we get back what we have,” said Brind’Amour. “I don’t want to lose guys; that’s a priority. I’d love to see us get a little better in certain areas. Our skill level, our power play - there [are] areas that we want to get better at. I think it’s in our room, though. I don’t know if we need to go outside and get a bunch of guys. We have to keep our group together as best we can.”
To that end, Waddell began the press conference with the perhaps surprising admission that they were going to look to extend the contracts of both Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, the goalie tandem that defied conventional wisdom in taking the Hurricanes deep into the playoffs.
What that means for presumed heir-apparent Alex Nedeljkovic, who also needs a new contract, is still up in the air. Waddell pointed out that Nedeljkovic still has one more waiver-exempt season, which might mean that he will start in Charlotte and make regular appearances in Raleigh, or it could mean that if negotiations go sideways with one of the other goalies that they have a bit of an ace in the hole.
As for other players, Waddell said that negotiations are beginning to ramp up with Sebastian Aho after being placed on the backburner for most of the season, and he initiated contact with Justin Faulk’s agent this morning, with the longtime defenseman eligible to sign a contract extension on July 1. Owner Tom Dundon, according to Waddell, doesn’t necessarily have a budget number to meet, and the general manager didn’t rule out the possibility of tendering an offer sheet in an attempt to sign a restricted free agent.
Waddell had no update on Scott Darling, who reports earlier this week had indicated was in line for a contract buyout when the window opens on June 15. One minor bit of housekeeping will require the Hurricanes to sign another goaltender by July 1 if they do buy Darling out, because the collective bargaining agreement requires a team to have no fewer than three goalies under contract at any one time, and the only ones in the organization who will have a contract on July 1 if Darling is bought out are Jeremy Helvig and Callum Booth, the tandem at ECHL Florida.
Ultimately, the way the season went leaves a lot to be proud of, as Brind’Amour said. “It’s all that learning curve that you’re on, and we were all on it together. For a lot of these guys, it was their first time doing any of this. The thing I’m most happy or appreciative of is, everything we wanted to do, and said, the guys bought into it, and it worked.
“If it doesn’t, that’s when everything starts to go [sideways]. But I think that because our guys saw that it did, and it took everything they had, and it just was good enough — that’s powerful.”
A few additional notes:
- Waddell on John Forslund and Tripp Tracy, whose contracts expire this summer: “We will definitely be talking to them. I already had lunch with John’s representation in Boston when we were there, so we will continue that. My hope from that end is that we will get them both signed.”
- Calvin de Haan and Jordan Martinook will both have surgery today, de Haan for a right shoulder injury that will keep him sidelined for 4-6 months and Martinook to repair a core muscle injury (commonly referred to as a “sports hernia”) that will require 4-6 weeks of recovery.
- With the Checkers still active in the playoffs, there has been no discussion about the future of Mike Vellucci and the Checkers’ staff, whose contracts are also up this summer.
- Brind’Amour on Aho: “He’s got to keep getting better. We all do. For him, in that position at center, I’ve got to be able to play him against the best players. He’s got to go against Bergeron. He’s got to be able to handle that, and that means there’s a little more mental approach, he’s got to be a little tougher to play against himself. He knows it. We’ve had these conversations. For me, to take that next step, to be that kind of player, he’s got to be able to go out and play against the other team’s best players.”