1. Stepping Back to Assess the Season
Mere minutes after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, wounds were too fresh and emotions were too raw to fully process and appreciate just how special the 2018-19 season was.
The passage of time from that moment to the team's end-of-year denouement on Monday and Tuesday has allowed the Hurricanes some distance to evaluate the wider breadth of the season from game one to game 82 and beyond, where lasting memories were forged.
"In the moment, it was a rough way to end," Brind'Amour admitted. "The regular season was a huge success for me because of the way we got in. That second half of the year was pretty special. To play that hard - I don't know what our record was, but I know it was one of the best in the league. That tells you a lot."
Video: Don Waddell and Rod Brind'Amour Press Conference
The Hurricanes won 31 of their last 45 games of the season, ranking second-most in the league in wins (behind only Tampa Bay) and third-most in points (behind Tampa and St. Louis) in that stretch.
"We just wanted it," Brind'Amour said. "That's why I know we have something special in there. They dug in. Now, they know how."
READ: HURRICANES REFLECT ON 2018-19 SEASON
The goal was never to simply make the playoffs; the goal was to be the best. The Hurricanes fell short of that, sure, but in being one of four teams left standing after a fruitless, 10-year playoff drought, a starved fan base was reignited and a young team was exposed to the rigors, emotions and passions of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That's successful, even if it didn't end with a trophy presentation.
"It was special the way we did it. Forget about the end result," Brind'Amour said. "The guys bought it and it worked. … It took everything they had, and it just was good enough. That's powerful."
2. Re-Signing Sebastian Aho is a Priority
This shouldn't come as any surprise.
Sebastian Aho enters the summer as a restricted free agent, and re-signing the 21-year-old Finnish center isn't a matter of if, but rather when.
Talk of a contract extension was tabled during the season, but Waddell said conversations with Aho's representation would be reignited in the coming days.
Video: Exit Interviews: Sebastian Aho
"I hope it's just not something we're still sitting here talking about in August or September," Waddell said. "You've got a party who wants to be here, and from our end, we want him here, so I truly believe that we should be able to figure this out relatively in a short time frame."
Aho put up career numbers in his third season in the NHL. He paced the team in goals (30) and points (83) and earned his first All-Star selection. Aho also led the team in playoff scoring with 12 points (5g, 7a) in 15 games.
3. Question Marks in Net
The Hurricanes came into training camp in September with Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek as their goaltending duo. When Darling got hurt in the team's final exhibition game, that pair transitioned to Mrazek and waiver-wire acquisition Curtis McElhinney. Both are slated to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
"Our goal would be to bring them both back if we could," Waddell said.
Video: Exit Interviews: Petr Mrazek
And why not? Mrazek and McElhinney each recorded at least 20 wins in the regular season, both helping to provide that steady, reliable goaltending that has seemed to elude this team for years.
Waiting in the wings is Alex Nedeljkovic, who was named the American Hockey League's outstanding goaltender in 2018-19 and won his first NHL start with the Hurricanes on Jan. 23 in Vancouver.
"The good thing about Alex is he's getting real great experience right now playing in Charlotte. They're having a great playoff run. He's got another year before he needs waivers as a goaltender, so it gives us a great luxury of three guys," Waddell said. "If Petr or Curtis, something doesn't work out, we know we have a great goalie waiting in the wings."
Video: Exit Interviews: Curtis McElhinney
And then there is Scott Darling, who inked a four-year contract with the Hurricanes in May 2017 but spent the second half of the 2018-19 season in Charlotte.
"We haven't made any determination of what we're going to do with Scott yet," Waddell said.
The offseason is inherently defined by change, and while the Hurricanes will aim to keep much of their team from this season intact, adjustments will inevitably be made.
There could be changes in net, as noted above. The defense isn't likely to change much, though Waddell didn't rule anything out, especially with recent surgeries for Trevor van Riemsdyk and Calvin de Haan.
"If there's somebody that's going to make us better and give us another option back there, we'd certainly look at that. We did it last summer," he said, in reference to signing de Haan as a free agent. "There's nothing holding us back."
Video: Exit Interviews: Justin Williams
Changes up front, at least as it pertains to the roster from this season, will likely be highlighted by Justin Williams - will he return for another season? - and Micheal Ferland - will he test the open market?
Though the Canes operated with one of the league's lowest payrolls in the 2018-19 season, Waddell said money is not an obstacle for improving the roster.
"Tom [Dundon] is very passionate. He really likes to win. He enjoyed this playoff run as much as we all did," Waddell said. "Tom wants to talk about every player that comes available that we could potentially go after. He proved that this year when he stepped up when we did the Niederreiter deal. It wasn't even a question mark. It was making our hockey team better, and he said, 'Let's do it.' I think we'll look at every situation and every possible deal we can."
Off the ice, don't expect to see too many changes, especially compared to a summer ago when the hockey operations staff and coaching staff were essentially gutted and retooled.
"I think [the front office] is working, so I don't see any reason why we should change it," said Waddell, who added this about being a finalist for General Manager of the Year: "It's great for the organization because no one person does it by themselves."
Brind'Amour said he doesn't expect any changes to the coaching staff. Waddell hinted at potential scouting staff changes but added that "nothing has been decided upon just yet."
5. The Challenge Ahead
The Hurricanes didn't surprise themselves with their push to the playoffs in the second half of the regular season - that believe existed in the locker room from day one - but they might have caught many around the league off guard.
After being one of the final four teams left standing this season, the Hurricanes won't be so under-the-radar when the puck drops on the 2019-20 campaign.
"We've established ourselves as a hard-working team," Brind'Amour said. "We're not going to sneak up on anybody in that department."
The challenge will be to turn the page and build on this foundation for success.
"We made it in, in my opinion, playing about as good as we could have," Brind'Amour said. "I don't know where else we could have gotten much better or much more out of that group. So, we have to get better."