A day after the Carolina Hurricanes players met with the media for the final time before dispersing for the summer, head coach Kirk Muller did the same to recap the 2013-14 season and look ahead to the summer and beyond.
While there was an underlying sense of frustration, just as there was within the group of 20-plus players in the locker room on Tuesday, Muller expressed optimism for the future, highlighting the team’s young core of players, the improvements defensively, the play of special teams down the stretch and more. He also touched on certain individual performances and assessed his own work.
The 42-minute press conference can be seen above in its entirety. Below are some snippets and highlights.
On what he would change as a coach from this season: “Looking back, we probably went too long with certain units on the power play having faith that it would change. I would love to be able to have the same lines and defensive pairings and be consistent, but there are a lot of things that you don’t have control over, meaning injuries. The one thing that I feel we can get more out of some players is identifying roles a little bit more and letting them – despite injuries – staying the course of what is asked of them.”
On frustration in the room: “When you don’t make the playoffs and it’s a few years in a row, there’s a lot of pride with pro athletes and frustration kicks in. It’s not fun. … I hope there are some players that are unhappy and not complacent and want to get this thing turned around.”
On what he’s learned most as a head coach in the NHL: “Finding a way to get the most out of every player. There are highs and lows and inconsistencies during the season. … Whether we were winning or losing, we tried to stay the course. We didn’t try to change our personalities or what we felt was important.”
On the team’s slow starts: “We tried morning skates, no morning skates. I went with shortening up the bench in the first period and getting the top lines out. I went four lines getting everybody into it. We explored different options, and at the end of the day, there were too many games that the first wasn’t our best period. … We’re going to evaluate it and figure out a solution.”
On Ron Hainsey and Brett Bellemore, two of the new faces on the Canes’ blue line: “I thought Hainsey came in, had a great personality, competed every night and ate up a lot of ice time. … Bellemore was not slated to be in the top six, but he did what he had to do in the summer to train, get quicker and get in good shape, and he came in and earned his spot.”
On the addition of Manny Malhotra: “To be told you’re not going to play is not something any pro player wants to hear. He kept in shape, did everything he had to do, and when he had the opportunity, he said he was willing to go to the minors to prove that he can still play. When we watched and evaluated him, he had areas of his game and personality that we needed in our locker room. … You could tell right away that he felt comfortable. I think he helped Eric out a lot. I think they have a really good relationship. … He really brought a lot of intangibles to our game both on and off the ice. He was a great addition, and everyone – not only here, but in the league – had a lot of respect for him.”
On his personal future: “As of right now, I’m head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. … As of right now, I’m just going about being head coach.”
On if he believes in this team moving forward: “I do. I do. I believe that if we come back next year at training camp and we are a healthy group, with the way we finished, we have a team that can change things here. I’m optimistic, but I’m disappointed.”
On the leadership opportunity for Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk: “I think it’s going to come naturally. .. You could see it down the stretch how much fun they had playing with each other. They’re going to come in next year one year more mature. They want to win.”
On summarizing the season and looking ahead: “I’m always critical of things I want to do, but you’re always learning and getting better. … I think we’ve done a lot of good things. We’re excited about a lot of stuff going on. … We’re disappointed that we didn’t make the playoffs, but we have to keep going in the right direction.”
For a recap and full video from Tuesday's player media availability, please click here.