RALEIGH, NC. - There was frustration, disappointment and some remaining disbelief Wednesday as over half of the Carolina Hurricanes roster met with the media for the final time this season.
"We missed an opportunity," a visibly angered Sebastian Aho offered.
"The expectations we had going into the year, we didn't meet them," Jaccob Slavin echoed.
And as for Jordan Martinook, who has experienced the dissatisfying outcome of four seasons in Carolina, "This one's the worst, by a long shot. This will sting for a while."
Although the team had their best regular season in franchise history, there were no players taking solace in that today. There was no shying away from the fact that the team had failed at their goal of which they set out to attain at the beginning of the season, which was to bring Raleigh another Stanley Cup.
For a second consecutive postseason they were eliminated during the second round, this time after a slew of offseason moves were made with the intention of getting the team beyond that hump.
Video: End of Season Media Availability: Sebastian Aho
"This year's probably even worse," Aho spoke of the hurt. "It's not a great feeling to feel like you missed an opportunity to do something special with this group."
"This was by far the best team I've been on here," Martinook further contributed. "[We had] depth, everybody bought in from day one how we were going to do it. There was a lot of new guys and there wasn't really a lull of trying to get everybody acclimated. It all just felt natural from the beginning and it never felt like we were going to lose. It just felt different... and I guess it wasn't."
Whether it was the lack of discipline, shortage of execution on special teams or any other of the variety of factors that led to the demise of the club in their seven-game series against the New York Rangers, the leaders took it on the chin and faced their shortcomings head-on.
"First of all, we took too many penalties. That's a fact. You can't give the other team easy ones. There's some you can live with, but there were too many bad ones that cost us big time," Aho elaborated on the team's 58 minor penalties in 14 games.
Video: End of Season Media Availability: Jordan Martinook
"If you can limit the amount of times that you put yourself in that position, then you're going to be better off for it," Martinook also said of the parade to the penalty box. "We, as a team, and that can start from the leadership down going forward, can put a bigger onus on that. If you're going to take a bad penalty or a stupid penalty, there needs to be four or five guys coming at you saying that that's not how we're going to do it."
Carolina took 298 minor penalties over the course of the 82-game regular season, but had the league's best penalty kill, denying 88% of the opposing team's tries.
During the postseason they were just 74%, allowing 13 goals to the man advantage units of Boston and New York, the most by any team through two rounds of postseason play.
Video: End of Season Media Availability: Jordan Staal
Now instead of coming together again to begin another Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the group is left thinking about what they could have done differently and the bitterness of coming up short.
"[That feeling] hasn't really gone away," Jordan Staal, the first player to the microphone, began with. "We wanted more and obviously it didn't happen, so it's going to sting for a while."
Even the most mild-mannered of the bunch, Slavin, admitted his frustrations with how things ended.
Video: End of Season Media Availability: Jaccob Slavin
Now, the team enters yet another offseason of unknown, in which the fate of six unrestricted free agents and four restricted free agents remains to be seen.
"I love this group, but there is a business aspect to it," Staal, now having completed his 16th NHL season went on to say.
With high-profile pieces like Vincent Trocheck and the Captain's linemate, Nino Niederreiter, now set to become unrestricted free agents, there's an understanding that some difficult decisions will have to be made.
What will the team look like next season? Will they have a better chance at winning it all? For now, it's the unknown and the "what could have been" that weighs heavy.
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