In the Hurricanes’ 2021 season, there was a disappointing finish, but plenty of good to take away, including a division championship. Captain Jordan Staal and Jaccob Slavin, the team’s top blue liner, played a key role in that.
Staal had arguably the best offensive season of his career, with 16 goals and 38 points in just 55 games, and was his usual reliable self as a two-way center and leader.
Slavin continued to be a rock on the Hurricanes’ blue line, and was recently named a Lady Byng Trophy finalist, as he committed just one minor penalty all season, a delay-of-game, puck-over-the-glass penalty.
Staal and Slavin both spoke to the media as part of the team’s exit interviews Friday, here’s a full breakdown of everything they had to say:
On Rod Brind’Amour: First of all, a great coach. He’s got it figured out. He knows how to push buttons, he knows how to get the best out of everyone. He knows how to relay a good message of how to play. And then just in general, as a person, he’s a guy I look up to in all aspects of life, the way he carries himself and what he does day to day. The way he treats people. He’s just a good dude. He’s a huge, if not one of the main reasons why we are where we are as a group.
On players possibly leaving and Brind’Amour’s contract situation: As of right now, from the stuff I’ve been hearing, we’re going to do everything we can to tie up all those things. As for some of the players, I love our group and we want everyone back. I understand it’s a business and all that stuff. No surprise that every year, you’re going to have a different group at some point. We’ve built an amazing group. I hope everyone that was in that room understands where we’re headed and what we want to accomplish here in the near future. We’ll keep building as a group and hopefully get everyone back.
On what the offseason looks like for him and if he’ll cheer for Monreal and his brother: Go Habs. Obviously I want it to be us and it’s unfortunate that we’re not there, but Eric’s been through a lot this year. I’ve said it before, the guy is an absolute pro. He had no quit in his game this year. It was a long year for him. I’m really happy to see where he is right now. To have a chance is all you want, and he’s right in the mix. Go Habs.
This summer is just looking like I’ll be able to go up to the lake this year for a bit, decompress and recharge, get some good workouts in. I’ll be in August for Kindergarten and grade one for my girls, and we’ll get back into it.
On the frustration of losing to a team like Tampa Bay: When you’re in that room, you’ve got to beat the best to be the best, so it is what it is. I think we’ve built a team that’s competitive and a team that believes it can win. I understand that it doesn’t always work out. You want to win every year. We had a group that could pull it off. I think we can always get better, and I think we have to if we want to beat the best, a team like that that didn’t have a whole lot of holes and a group that was committed to playing the right way. You could tell we were just a little bit off. We have to find a way to use that frustration to bring that in the summer and really just push ourselves to get better. And we will. We’ve got a few things to shore up, I think with some of the little things that can get us better. We’re going to work on that and we’re going to come back next year with a little more bitter taste in our mouth that hopefully we can use.
On the challenges of this COVID season: It’s not the ideal situation, but I think everyone in the whole world is obviously feeling the effects of the pandemic and we were no different. It was a different style of scheduling. I didn’t mind playing two games in a row. I thought that actually benefited us as players, not being as taxing for travel. So it made the schedule a little bit easier, obviously a little less travel for games, so that helped. But all the rules and all the stuff that came along with the COVID stuff wasn’t easy, wasn’t great, but it was part of it. It was just the way that was going this year with the stuff we had to do, and I thought for the most part the league and the players did a really good job of making sure everyone was safe as best we could, and we still put a product out there that was entertaining and fun to watch.
On Andrei Svechnikov: I think he’s hard on himself in general. I think all great players are hard on themselves, and he is a great player. There’s no question about it. He completely changed the dynamic of our team as soon as he got here. Like I said, there’s reasons why we are where we are, and he’s one of them as well. Players who can change a game in an instant are players you want, and he can do that. So he’s only going to get better. He’s so young and so competitive. He wants to be the best and that’s what you want. He’s going to be just fine. You watch, he’s going to be an elite player very, very soon.
On how he’ll remember the season and if he’d like to see a similar schedule layout next season: I don’t know if I’ll look back on the season fondly or anything like that in regards to COVID. I think everyone is excited that it’s hopefully behind us in that aspect of it. Missed the fans. It was hard to play without fans. I think it was nice to see them come back. Even for our division maybe earlier than most. It made the game a lot more fun. I won’t miss the no fans games and all the COVID stuff that came along with it. As for the scheduling, I think they should try. I think obviously when we go back to playing every team at least once, it’s probably going to be more difficult to do that. You’re only going to play your division teams a couple more times. Maybe you can sneak that in there a couple of times, but we’ll see how it goes. I’m not sure how they’re going to do scheduling anymore, but it’s fun to play every team. I do enjoy that. So it’ll probably be harder to do those back to backs than how we did it this year.
On Alex Nedeljkovic: Ned was great. I think Roddy said it before, when great players have an opportunity in front of them, you’ve got to take advantage of it. And obviously he did. He’s got an aspect to his game, the way he plays the puck, that really helps our D corps and the way we play as a group. Obviously he made some big saves and won games for us throughout the season, and played a great playoffs as well. So he’s a very good goaltender. Obviously he’s still very young in his career. He can only get better, I think. I think he learned a lot this year, the way he grew, kept playing and carrying himself. I think his confidence kept growing. You start getting him in some more seasons, I think he can elevate his game. So we’ll see where he can take this group.
On what the Canes need to take the next step: I think we’re right there. We had a few injuries throughout the playoffs. I don’t think there’s really a whole lot of holes in our group. We ran into a very good team, but we have to be that team next time. I liked our group. I liked our chances. It didn’t quite work out, but I’m not going to go through the whole lineup and decide what we needed or not. I need to be better if we wanted to win, so there’s opportunities there that we can get better, and we’re going to, as players and as a group try to do that. Including myself, I’m going to come back even better next year, work hard in the summer and we’re going to find a way to get to the next level.
On his injury in the first round and if it will require surgery in the offseason: In the first round, it was definitely noticeable. In game one, I tweaked it a little bit and then I took some time off, but when I came back for games five and six, I felt a lot better. The time off was definitely put to good use. In the second round, I started feeling very normal, so I’m thankful for that. Now that we aren’t playing now, I’ll give it some time to rest and get back to 100% and ready to go.
On if he’s already gotten his offseason training in mind: Not necessarily. It’s a different offseason than what we normally have, with shorter timeframes. I’m gonna be here in Raleigh for most of it with (Bill Burniston) and figure out our best plan of action. I’ll just try to build as much strength as I can. We played a lot of hockey in a short amount of time, so just try to regain all that muscle mass and try to strengthen some areas and work on some different things to not have that injury happen again.
On Dougie Hamilton: He’s been a huge part of this team and a huge part of our success. I want him back. I enjoy playing with him and I think we work well together. This is the tough part about hockey - the business side of things. You get guys in the locker room that you like and like playing with, and sometimes it works for them to come back and sometimes it doesn’t, so hopefully, it can be worked out because he makes our team better. I want him back.
On how the team adjusted to the COVID regulations and how it impacted the team: Guys are pretty adaptable. I think our team, our management, our leadership, did a good job to make sure guys felt included and were getting as much team bonding as allowed and making sure we were doing it properly. Making sure we still had the comradery in the room. We had a super tight-knit group in the locker room this year, so we did spend a whole lot of time together. It wasn’t necessarily the same on the road as in past years. We were at the rink pretty much every day. Guys hung out quite a bit at the rink and got that quality time in, so I wouldn’t say it was too much of a challenge this year.
On if these painful playoff exits are just part of the process of becoming a champion: You hope that’s the case. It sucks any year to lose in the playoffs. The first year against Boston. Last year against Boston. This year against Tampa. It’s never fun, you don’t want to experience it, but all you can do is learn from it. That’s part of it. Losing is a part of hockey. You’re not going to go out there and win every series. Some series, you’re supposed to win and you don’t win. Some series, you’re supposed to lose and you end up winning. That’s just playoff hockey.
On Rod Brind’Amour’s impact on this team: It’s huge. You look at where we were when he took over and where we are now and just all across the board, from top to bottom, in the locker room, on the ice, in the organization, it’s a night and day difference. He has a huge role, if not the most important role, to play in that. He’s awesome. As a coach, he’s awesome. As a person, he’s awesome. The respect he has for us as players, we truly appreciate that. And we want to go out there and play hard for a coach that respects you as a player and a person. Just his care for people - I know people talk about that a lot - his care for people. But it’s true, and we’re extremely thankful for that.