"Third place loser, is that what we were?"
Although it was said tongue-in-cheek, there was no mistaking head coach Rod Brind'Amour Tuesday night during Canes Corner. His mission in his debut season was nothing short of amassing 16 postseason wins to claim the Stanley Cup, and that desire has remained unchanged throughout the summer.
Perhaps it is a bit presumptuous for a club that just snapped a nine-year playoff drought to be so focused on the most coveted trophy in sports before the season has even begun - even if that team did advance all the way to the Eastern Conference Final after knocking out the reigning champs in the first round and sweeping another division foe in the second - but Brind'Amour is not one to set easily-reached goals.
"I joked with the guys about how when I took over I tripped on the bar because it was on the floor," he said. "I felt like we had to get it up where it needed to be which is expecting to win, expecting to be the best team in the National Hockey League. Why wouldn't we be thinking that? Why would we be talking about making the playoffs? That's average. We want to win the Stanley Cup. That's what we need to do."
Building that Stanley Cup champion is a process that has already begun during this month's training camp with two-thirds of the Canes' six preseason games already in the rearview mirror. Most of those contests, including Wednesday night's tilt in Nashville, have been about giving young players - including forward Julien Gauthier - an opportunity prove themselves worthy of a spot on the NHL roster come October.
"He's had a good camp," Brind'Amour said of the 21-year-old Gauthier, who has an assist, a plus-2 rating and nine shots on goal in the first four exhibition matchups. "Now he looks like he could belong. We asked him to get his conditioning better, and he was one of the best guys in our testing. But you can't just be a gym rat - you have to go out on the ice and do your thing, and he's done that fairly well so far."
Success stories are certainly to be had under the second-year coach's watchful eye, as he was quick to mention forwards Martin Necas, Carolina's 2017 first-round pick who made the NHL roster out of camp last season and played seven games before being reassigned to Charlotte, and Warren Foegele, who played in 77 regular-season games and all 15 playoff games in his rookie campaign, as examples to follow.
"We had an opportunity there with the young guys early on to give it to them and he took it," Brind'Amour said of Foegele. "This guy looked ready and he also looked like he wanted to be here, so he made the team. It certainly wasn't given to him. That's what we want to see."
Dressing younger lineups this preseason is a twofold strategy, as it's also a way for the coaching staff to avoid playing many from the NHL roster, allowing them to conserve their energy after a long playoff push only four months ago. After all, with Brind'Amour at the helm, he's already thinking ahead to when those players' services will be in high demand.
"Everything we're doing now, come hopefully May or June, will take its toll so you have to manage all that," he said.
Brind'Amour raised the bar. Now it's time to build a team that can keep it there.
Canes Corner is a live radio show broadcast from Backyard Bistro. Hosted by Mike Maniscalco, the one-hour show features a Hurricanes guest and can be heard on 99.9 The Fan.