Two days after the players met with the media for the final time of the 2014-15 season, it was Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Francis
and head coach Bill Peters’ turn to put to rest the 82-plus games and look ahead to what could be a busy summer and beyond.
Above, you can see the near-28-minute news conference in its entirety, and below are some highlights.
The Past: Assessing the 2014-15 Season
The Hurricanes posted a 0-6-2 record in October and by Thanksgiving with a 6-12-3 record and 15 points, the team was well outside of a playoff spot: that’s a near impossible hole to climb out of.
I think our start went a long way to dooming our season. In my mind, there are probably three reasons for the start to go the way it did: 1) Bill and his staff were implementing a system, and I’m not sure we trusted it out of the gate. 2) We had injuries, but that’s not an excuse. Everyone has injuries. I do think it was unique in the sense that we had high-end guys out all at the same time. I think really what it did was expose our lack of depth in the organization, something we talked about last year in building that foundation and base so we can sustain [injuries]. 3) Our goaltending wasn’t great in the month of October. It was good, but we had a tendency to let in one bad one, and for a team that was struggling to find wins, that’s tough to overcome.
Conversely, from Jan. 1 to the trade deadline, the Hurricanes went 14-7-3 (31 points).
You always want more. I liked the way we were playing in January and February. I thought we were a little hit and miss coming down the stretch at times, but we are much further ahead moving forward than we were in September. That’s an encouraging thing and an exciting thing. There are more layers to what we can accomplish, but we’re starting at a much higher level. The guys are excited about that. They want to win.
An oft-heard complaint coming out of the 2013-14 season was that the team did not compete on a nightly basis. Francis sought to correct that.
If you watched our team play all season long, there’s maybe a handful or less games where you felt the team wasn’t working hard. We lost, I believe, 27 one-goal games: 16 in regulation, seven in the shootout and four in overtime. We lost another seven games that were one-goal games that became two-goal games because they scored an empty-net goal late. That’s 34 of your 40 losses by one goal. I think the compete was there, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough. It’s still 40 losses, and we have to fix that.
On a more individual level, Peters was asked about players that might have surprised him.
“Until you’re in the trenches, you really don’t (know the players),” he pointed out, before mentioning the strides forward taken by players like Elias Lindholm, Andrej Nestrasil and Ryan Murphy.
Victor Rask’s name was also mentioned.
Victor Rask, obviously. 30-plus points. In the exit meetings, I talked to Victor, and he’s got a chance to go play in the World Championship. I don’t think that would have been the case if he had been the first line center for the Charlotte Checkers. He did a real good job, and other coaches around the league noticed him and how good he is. He did a great job on the power play on the point, and that’s something he did as a rookie. Very impressed with the job he did, and he’s only going to continue to get stronger, which will help him in multiple areas – faceoffs, separation with the puck, etc.
And, of course, there’s Justin Faulk, who Ron Hainsey called the team’s MVP.
He didn’t play a lot, but he was a part of that U.S. Olympic team. At that time, I believe he was 22. He’s 23 years old now, and he’s been an NHL All-Star. He’s going to be a legit No. 1 guy. He’s probably a No. 2 guy at this stage in his career; he’s got things he can clean up away from the puck and through the neutral zone to become a pure No. 1 D-man in our league. He’s going to play in the World Championship. He’s going to play in the World Cup, I would think, for the U.S. in 2016. And if we go to the Olympics in 2018, he’s going to be on that U.S. team. His progression in his career is a rocket ship. He’s an elite, young player.
In discussing analysis, Francis was also asked to assess the performance of the coaching staff in year one.
“I thought the coaching staff did a great job. You start 0-6-2, and there’s a real potential at that time for things to go south in a hurry. I thought Bill never changed his message,” he said. “Down the stretch, we never quit. We continued to play and work hard.”
The Present: Off-Season Ahead
It could be somewhat of a busy offseason for the Hurricanes, who have 10 picks in what looks to be one of the deepest drafts in recent history. There could also be some personnel decisions to be made in the near future, as Eric Staal, among notable others, is coming up on the last year of his contract.
I do know that, as everybody is well aware of, he has a no move clause, so he does control a lot of that. But he does like it here and wants to be a part of the solution. He wants to get back to having that playoff success. We’ll have those discussions over the summer and see what direction it takes.
He was an excellent captain. Outstanding captain. When we were down bodies and he had a broken foot, he stayed in the lineup. That goes a long way. He could have easily pulled the pin, come out of the lineup and threw us into a deeper tailspin. … The room never got toxic at all. It was strong. I give those veteran guys and some of the younger guys that have leadership roles a lot of credit for hanging in there and staying with it. … Passionate guy, proud man and he provided good leadership for us this year.
Alexander Semin, who has three years remaining on his $35 million contract, was also a topic of discussion. Would the Canes consider buying him out?
“We’ll certainly look at all of the options we have moving forward, have those discussions and make the decision we think is best for the organization,” Francis said.
The Hurricanes have an 8.5 percent chance of winning this year’s draft lottery, but in any case, they hold one of the top picks and have 10 in total – a chance to build toward the future.
We’ve got 10 picks in this year’s draft. We’ve got five – obviously we were hoping for six – but we’ve got five in the top 95 picks of this year’s draft. Looking ahead to next year, we’ve got two firsts, a second and two thirds. When we talked last year about trying to build this thing right for the long term and start from the foundation, the picks are great as long as we do our job, draft the right players, develop them and give them the best opportunity to be NHL players. Would we consider moving some of that (picks) to get players? Absolutely. Would we consider moving some of that (picks) to move up or back? We’ll look at all of those options.
In free agency, expect the team’s focus to be defense-related.
We traded two good players in Andrej Sekera and Tim Gleason. To start, we’d like to get two similar players back that can do what they do and then add to that to have depth. We know what we have now with the kids we auditioned. … We also know what we have coming with Pesce, Fleury and Carrick. That’s exciting. I really enjoyed watching those kids play. They’re bigger kids, they skate well and they have bright futures. But in the immediate future for us, we have to go out and get some D-men.
The Future: Building Long-Term Stability
Despite the unfortunate result of missing the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, the Hurricanes are aiming to establish long-term stability in identity and success on the ice.
All those articles, ‘Pittsburgh Penguins Lose to Lowly Canes’ or ‘Hapless Carolina Beats Someone,’ they’re all on my desk. You can come look at them. That’s going to motivate us. I know it motivates me. It’s going to motivate our guys.
The message from day one was always to make sure that we have the long-term vision of this franchise in mind. We have to do what’s right for this organization long-term. I don’t want to get to the playoffs for one year and then miss it for four years. When we get to the playoffs, I want to make sure we’re there each and every year going forward. That’s always been our vision and plan, to develop it that way.