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Hurricanes have a lot to be proud of, and what’s next?

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The Hurricanes have had a lot to smile about over the last two years.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at Boston Bruins John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no doubt the Canes’ result in their Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series with the Boston Bruins was disappointing. After the Canes’ domination against the Rangers, expectations were a lot higher than a five-game loss.

But that’s what happened. Better officiating, a better power play and better finishes to games could have made for at least a closer series, as every game was within one goal in the final minute.

There were plenty of positives to take from the series, chief among them the emergence of Haydn Fleury as a key contributor. But at the end of the day, the result was the Canes bowed out in the first round a year after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

And you know what? That’s OK. Is it disappointing? Sure. Is there a lot to be proud of and look forward to still? Absolutely. I’m not trying to mood police here. How you feel is how you feel.

What I am going to do is give my thoughts about what the Canes have to be proud of from this season and beyond, and a little about what the next steps might look like.

Still a fun season

While last season was not on the same level as the 2018-19 run to the Eastern Conference Finals, that was still a once in a lifetime kind of season.

But, as someone who watched the regular season from afar as a fan, I can say with confidence that this season had a lot of fun moments to look back on as well.

The 5-0 start. Dougie Hamilton’s play before his injury. Sebastian Aho being well on his way to the 40-goal club. The Svechnikov breakout season and lacrosse goals. The 4-0-1 Western swing in December. A solid rookie season from Martin Necas. David Ayres. One of the most exciting trade deadlines in recent memory. Justin Williams’ return. The sweep of the Rangers.

While this season ended sooner than anyone hoped in disappointment, it still provided for a hell of a lot of fun.

A lot to be proud of

Rod Brind’Amour repeatedly used the word proud in his post game five press conference, and he should be.

His stated goal when he took over as head coach was to make the team relevant after and, after two playoff appearances in two years (the first time that’s happened since 2001 and 2002), I’d say, mission accomplished.

“That’s what I take the most pride in,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s what we talked about. We want to win. We’re saddened that we’re not still playing, that’s why we do this, but there’s more to it. We want to be that organization that’s continually talked about to have a chance to win and for our community to be proud of the team and how they play, how they represent. It means more than it has in the past, I think. I feel like our guys buy that and show it by the way they play.”

He’s absolutely right on that point. Before last season, the yearly disappointments were a hell of a lot more crushing than losing a first-round series. I’m not saying playoff losses should be excused because the team isn’t far removed from a 10-year drought, but perspective is important.

The Hurricanes are talked about locally. I went for a walk before game five, and saw multiple Canes flags flying from cars, for a game that was being played in a bubble thousands of miles away. I remember seeing all of the flags and signs last year, and watching game seven against the Capitals in a Player’s Retreat packed to the rafters with Canes fans (obviously don’t do that right now.)

They’ve become somewhat of a national media darling, with the majority of writers picking them to win this series (oops).

Obviously the Canes want to win, and that should be goal number one. However, being a consistent playoff team means they simply are not going to make the final four every time they make it (not to mention the Canes likely aren’t playing the Bruins in the first round if this year is a normal playoff).

The goal of returning to relevancy both locally and nationally was an important step, and one that’s been achieved.

A young core

This is an obvious one I won’t spend too much time on, but it’s worth noting this team is built for the long haul.

Svechnikov, Necas, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are all 26 years of age or younger and under contract (at bargain rates, in many cases), for several years. This team has the foundation in place, and it’s just a matter of finding the missing pieces.

Which brings us to…

What’s next?

Now comes the hard part. It’s clear that the Canes are a clear step above playoff tweener teams like the Rangers. It’s also clear that the Canes are a step below elite contenders like the Bruins.

That step from good, consistent playoff team to elite Cup Contender is a hard one, but it’s the one the Canes are faced with now. We’ll get more into this in the coming days and weeks, but adding a legit number one goalie and another top-six forward (both will be easier said than done) this offseason are among the logical next steps.

While this won’t be an easy step to take, and it could even take a year or two, it should be a much more enjoyable one than figuring out the step up from “just good enough not to make the playoffs.”

The Canes dealt with disappointment earlier than they have in any postseason since 2001, but the overall picture remains overwhelmingly positive.

Be sure to stay tuned to Canes Country in the coming days and weeks for looks at next season’s roster, free agency, potential trades and draft coverage. Thank you all for your support during the 2019-20 season.