RALEIGH, NC. - "It's disappointing to not continue to play, but the season certainly wasn't a disappointment."
Perhaps no statement rings more true than Rod Brind'Amour's opening remarks from his end of season media availability.
For over the span of nearly 20 minutes, both the head coach, as well as the team's President & General Manager, Don Waddell, fielded questions from the media, putting a bow on the 2021-22 campaign, plus the ensuing postseason.
The hottest topic of the conversation was the pending free agency of Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter and Tony DeAngelo, among others.
"We've got a lot of work to be done there," Waddell candidly offered on the subject. The team was already tight to the league's $81.5 million salary cap this year and now will have to try and find a way to make it all work financially for the next season.
The biggest challenges are that the performances of Trocheck and Niederreiter may very well have earned them raises above their previous average annual values (AAV) and DeAngelo, who was playing on a one-year "show me" deal, appears to be in line for a big raise over that $1 million.
Then, in addition to the above, Martin Necas and Steven Lorentz are restricted free agents (RFA) coming off of their entry-level deals. Ethan Bear (RFA), Derek Stepan, Brendan Smith, Ian Cole and Max Domi are all also headed for free agency as well.
"We certainly hope they are both back, but it takes two sides," Waddell said of Trocheck and Niederreiter, two of the team's five 20-goal scorers this season. "We like our hockey club and those guys play key positions for us, key roles. It's in our best interest to see if we can bring them both back."
The GM also had similar thoughts and praise for DeAngelo.
"If you look at his regular season, he was one of the more dominant power play guys in the league. He was a really good factor for us on the blue line. Do we want to sign him? Yes. He's one year away from being an unrestricted free agent, so we'll get into that with his agent and see if there's common ground to do a multi-year agreement or not."
"I want all of the guys back, [Don is the one] who has to figure it all out," Brind'Amour playfully said of the situation. "We've got a good group and I like the fact that we've come this far. Everyone here is leaving disappointed and that's good. We have to find the way to punch through."
The NHL's Free Agency Signing Period begins on Wednesday, July 13 at 12 p.m.
Video: End of Season Media Availability: Don Waddell & Rod Brind'Amour
The 2017 first round selection met with reporters for the final time earlier in the day Thursday and admitted that this season was a step back for him.
"[As a player], you always expect to get better. We were expecting bigger things from him this year and that didn't happen for whatever reason," Brind'Amour bluntly offered, before putting some of that onus on himself. "That's on me. My job is to get the guys to play at their best, and he didn't. So I have to figure that out."
Necas had 14 goals in 72 games this season, an exact replica of his total from last year's shortened 56-game season. He also had 26 helpers, one fewer than last year.
"He's such a talent that we have to figure that one out. We need more from him, we expect more," the head coach continued.
The 23-year-old expressed during his exit interview a desire to play center next year, a change in pace from his spot at right wing this year. However, if the Canes are not able to get a deal done with Trocheck, could there be an opportunity there?
"That's a tough position. You can't just say, 'Oh I want to play center'. That's one of the most important positions in the game. It's an option, definitely, but he has to earn it," Brind'Amour concluded with of his play.
While end of season interviews have become synonymous with learning specifics of injuries that players fought through in the postseason, the biggest curveball of the day came on the other end of the spectrum for Carolina.
When asked about the status of defenseman Jake Gardiner, Waddell said that the team obtained his medical records recently and he's been fully cleared to play.
Gardiner missed the entirety of the 2021-22 season after it was announced in early September that he would need hip and back surgeries.
"We expect that he's made a full recovery and he's able to continue to play hockey," Waddell said, on top of sharing that Gardiner and Canes Athletic Trainer Doug Bennett have been in communication.
Waddell on if they're happy with the goaltending tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, both of whom are under contract for next season...
"I think they proved all year. Freddie was outstanding until he got injured. Raanta was very good during the year and then he was called upon during the playoffs, the most games he'd ever started in a row. He gave us a chance every night, for the most part, to win, so I'd say we're very happy."
Brind'Amour when asked if the team would be okay with moving Jesperi Kotkaniemi into a top nine center role, should Trocheck leave during free agency...
"We want to get Tro back, there's no doubt about it. He's a great player for us, so that's a priority. Business is business. [Don and crew] have to figure that out, but KK has huge potential. I saw it grow during the year. All that remains to be seen, but there's a lot there."
Waddell giving his thoughts on Seth Jarvis' spectacular rookie season...
"If we back up to the start of training camp, probably most of us thought he was going to go back to junior for another year. Rod said he had to earn [a spot on the team], and he certainly earned it. Last year he only played a couple games (24) because of COVID and if you look at where he's at now in this point in his career, it's exciting. The young players that we have under contract right now give us a huge nucleus and building blocks. Seth is obviously going to be a big part of it."
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