In what could perhaps be a byproduct of a general movement towards youth, the future of the Hurricanes’ most-experienced players remained murky following exit interviews with the media on Monday.
Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney, who are the among the team’s oldest players at 39 and 37 years of age, respectively, each face some degree of uncertainty as to whether they will be back with the team, or in the league, next season. Brind’Amour has one year remaining on his contract but could retire or potentially be bought out, with Whitney set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Both players said that they did not discuss their immediate futures with team management at meetings earlier this morning. Besides a brief affirmation that he would like to return, Whitney was reluctant to discuss the topic altogether, while Brind’Amour admitted to be struggling with the early decision-making process.
“My whole mindset is that I’ve never quit on anything in my life,” said Brind’Amour of potentially ending his career with time left on his contract. “To quit something that I haven’t finished is kind of weighing on me a little bit. If I was to walk away today, I’d be in my mind almost quitting. That’s kind of why I need some time.”
Despite his own uncertainty, Brind’Amour acknowledged that it may not be his decision to make. From his time spent on the ice each game to his new role as one of the team’s alternate captains, his role has steadily diminished over each of the last two seasons.
“I more than anyone probably don’t feel too happy with the way things went (this season), but that’s life and that’s the way things go sometimes,” he said.
Brind’Amour missed the last game of the year due a groin issue caused by ongoing problems with his hip, saying that it wasn’t necessarily his decision to do so. Prior to that, he had broken the 15-minute mark of ice time in consecutive games, a rarity since November, and had posted his first multi-goal game in over two years against Tampa Bay on April 6.
“It felt good to kind of get in the mix a little bit and feel like you can contribute,” he said. “That’s a positive thing for me, in my mind anyway, the way the last few games went for me until the very end.”
If this is indeed the end of his NHL career, that’s likely what he’ll hang on to from a difficult last few seasons.
”It was a year or two for me to forget more than remember, that’s for sure,” he said.
As for Whitney, there is little question that he still has a future in the NHL, it’s just a matter of where. The talented winger just posted his fourth consecutive season of 20 or more goals and has shown little sign of slowing down up to this point.
“My body feels as good as it did three years ago,” he said. “Once I’m not able to play at a high level then I don’t want to eke it out until the end.”
Long bandied about as one of the league’s top attractions at the trade deadline, Whitney admitted that he was indeed surprised that he remained with the team for the stretch drive rather than heading to another team, even though he held a no-trade clause at the time.
“I think everyone thought I was going,” he said. “I was surprised, but I wasn’t disappointed. I like it here and we were still making a case for ourselves, my family is here and my kids are here.”
Since he remained with the Hurricanes, the team will have exclusive negotiating rights with him ahead of the July 1 free agency period.
In addition to Whitney, the team has two additional unrestricted free agents in goaltender Manny Legace and defenseman Brian Pothier, both of whom indicated hopes that they could stay in the organization. Together with Brind'Amour and Whitney, they represent the four eldest players on the current roster.
“I’d like to stay, but that’s a decision they’re going to have to make,” said Legace, 37. “I think (Justin) Peters played pretty well when he got called up, so I think he made a pretty good case for himself for next year.”
“I’m at a situation right now where the financial side is not even close to the most important thing to me,” said Pothier, 32. “This is the kind of environment that I’d love to stay in. Not only at the rink but outside the rink, this city seems like it would be a phenomenal fit for my family.”
General Manager Jim Rutherford is expected to give his thoughts on the above players and the season in general on Wednesday morning.