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Rutherford Holds End of Season Conference

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford held his annual end-of-season press conference Thursday afternoon at the RBC Center, addressing a wide range of topics relating both to the 2007-08 season and his plans for the future.  What follows is a summary of his main points as well as a complete transcript.



Watch: Part 1 Part 2

  • After Sergei Samsonov stated on Tuesday that he'd like to stay in Carolina, the feeling with Rutherford is mutual.  The Hurricanes GM said that re-signing the 29-year-old Russian forward, an impending unrestricted free agent who scored 32 points in 38 games with Carolina, would be his first priority.

    "I’m pretty confident that he’s going to end up staying here," said Rutherford.  "He really likes it here, and he’s a respectful guy and a loyal guy.  He knows that if he didn’t get this opportunity here that his hockey career in this league might very well have been over.  I expect him to be back.”

     
  • On the status of coach Peter Laviolette, Rutherford reiterated his "everyone is under review" stance from earlier in the season.  While he praised the team's style of play under Laviolette, Rutherford was somewhat critical of the decision to hurry injured players back into the lineup at the end of the season.

    “The injuries had something to do with the end, because of the last game and we put players back into our lineup that were not ready to play, and it wasn’t fair to the players and it wasn’t fair to the overall team," he said.  "In that sense it affected it.

     
  • Other than re-signing Samsonov, Rutherford also said he would like to make changes to the team's defense.  While the status of unrestricted free agents Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley is uncertain for next season, the Canes' GM said he would like to strengthen that unit, likely by trading one of the team's forwards.  Rutherford said the team would have approximately 10 or 11 forwards who could play in the top nine, which would help facilitate such a trade.

    "I would suspect, based on what our budget will be for our team, that it would be more apt that we would trade a player for a defenseman, or trade two players for two defensemen, because if we don’t we can’t offset the money," said Rutherford.  "The fact that we have extra forwards, I would suspect that would be the way we do it.”

      
  • While the Canes' playoff chances weren't completely doomed until the final game of  the regular season, a heartbreaking 4-3 loss at home to the Florida Panthers, Rutherford instead points to a stretch of 30-35 games in November and December that ultimately cost Carolina a playoff spot.

    "We had a season where in some ways I can say that I’m proud of what we did, but I’m just irritated by that 30-35 games in the first half of the season," he said.  "I don’t think that it needed to happen, and it cost us the playoffs.”

    Rutherford also pointed to a handful of games where he felt the team was too agressive in trying to seal a win in regulation rather than play it safe and earn a point by getting to the overtime period.

    ”I think that, more to that point that I saw this year, is we probably had five or six games that we tried to win in regulation time that we should have played like other teams that are in the playoffs and get a guaranteed point," he said.  "I’ll point to one game that sticks in my mind and still bothers me is the game in Nashville.  We played a really good game, we actually outplayed them, we were obviously the road team, their goalie was very good, and then we were still pressing to win that game.  Our defense was pinching in and we got caught on their one goal."

     
  • Although goaltender Cam Ward had his ups and downs this season and wasn't particularly strong in the season's final game, Rutherford was satisfied with the 24-year-old's season and was clear to spare him from any of the blame for missing the playoffs.

    "Sure, there were a handful of games you can point to where he and the team probably would have viewed him as maybe we would have liked him to play a little bit better, but he played almost 70 games and when you play that many games you’re not going to be at your best every night," said Rutherford.  "But overall he had a good year.  He put us in a position to be in the playoffs, and certainly I can’t say it was the goaltending that did not get us in the playoffs, because it wasn’t.” 

     
  • Rutherford pointed out that Eric Staal was able to step into a main leadership role with Rod Brind'Amour out late in the season, which allowed him to step up his game and take control of the team.

    "What happened here through injury, is that Rod Brind’Amour moved out of the locker room for a period of time because of the injury, which meant that somebody had to step up, and our best player, Eric Staal, did that," he said.  "He was able to cross that line and be our team leader.  This was Eric Staal’s team.

     
  • While clear in stating that they weren't an excuse for missing the playoffs, Rutherford did say that there was no ignoring the differece they made in the team's season, especially with the team only missng the postseason by two points in the standings.

    "I think with the team we had, I don’t think we would have gone through the stretches we did if we had a healthy team," he said.  "With that, I want to just clarify that, I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but if we ever had a year that we could say that it made a difference, it made a difference.”


     
  • Even though not making the playoffs has a great effect on the team's revenue in a given year, Rutherford was hopeful of keeping the team's payroll at close to the same level it was this past season.

    "The one thing we know for sure is that this division is getting better and teams are not going to get worse.  In order to compete and win another Cup, we’re going to have be at a certain level.  It gets a little bit tricky when you’re in a lower-revenue smaller-market team, but I still think that we have the pieces here to make the adjustments we need to be a real good team in our conference next year.”

     
  • On the status of players like Keith Aucoin and Ryan Bayda, impending UFA's who played well while filling in for injured players but may not have a spot in the lineup at the start of the season, Rutherford indicated that he may try to stock the fourth line with bigger players to attempt to give the team more size.  While Aucoin and Bayda don't fit that decription, Rutherford said they may be asked to fill that role anyway.

    "Do we have to change our fourth line and get it a little bit bigger, and if in fact that’s true, I don’t think their size is going to change over the offseason," he said.  "But I give them a lot of credit, and they may very well be back with us.  If we had a fourth line with them playing on it and they play the way they played, that works too, but that decision has not been made yet.”

Complete Transcript


“I’ll say the obvious.  It’s disappointing that we’re having this gathering at this point in the season.  It was not expected, not projected.  I’ll just go back over the season.  Since I’ve been a manager, which is a long time now, I thought it was the best training camp that we’ve ever had.  Peter (Laviolette) and his coaching staff and the use of people like Ron Francis at camp, I thought really gave us a really good camp and a good basis to get off to a good start to the season, which we did.  Part of that good start was exceptional goaltending by Cam Ward

For whatever reason we then went through a period of time in November and December of undisciplined, lackluster, inconsistent – I think that’s most of the words – poor work ethic, and that’s what really cost us the playoffs.  We can talk about the last game of the season and we can all talk about several different things about that game.  First of all the Florida Panthers are not an easy team.  They’re a very capable team, it’s not like we played a team that we view ourselves as being a whole lot better than.  But with the scoring chances we had and whatnot, we could have won game 82, but we didn’t. 

When I sit back and look at the season, it was November and December where we went through 30-35 games of being a handful of games under .500 I would think, and with the team we had and even the injuries we had, if we go through that period of time at just a .500 team, we would have been right at the top of our conference.  We won 43 games, the most a team won in our conference was 47, but it still wasn’t good enough.  I think if we were playing in a series today, we would view ourselves as one of the top contenders and a chance to win our conference and go on to the Stanley Cup Finals, but we’re not. 

Now we go into another offseason, two in a row without making the playoffs, even under the best of times there’s changes that are made and then when you miss the playoffs two years in a row you have to consider what are the things you can do to try and change and bring about change in your team and give you a better chance to make the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup.  I’m going to take some time probably in the next couple of weeks.  I’ve had my meetings with the players, initial meetings with the coaching staff and I have enough information now to digest over the next couple of weeks and see what changes that I may consider making."

On if extra points earned around the league for overtime and shootouts negatively affected the team this year
”I think that, more to that point that I saw this year, is we probably had five or six games that we tried to win in regulation time that we should have played like other teams that are in the playoffs and get a guaranteed point.  I’ll point to one game that sticks in my mind and still bothers me is the game in Nashville.  We played a really good game, we actually outplayed them, we were obviously the road team, their goalie was very good, and then we were still pressing to win that game.  Our defense was pinching in and we got caught on their one goal.  We got beat 1-0, a two-on-one and bang, it’s in our net. There were a number of games where we could have done a better job late in the game, five minutes left, 10 minutes left, to just get us to overtime. 

We can debate your point about three points – I haven’t though enough about that.  I actually have a much different idea, which is kind of a wild idea, that no one has a whole of interest in.  I’d like to see overtime just played as overtime, where you go four-on-four for a couple of minutes, three-on-three for a couple of minutes, two-on-two for a couple of minutes and then you eventually get down to one-on-one, which for all intents and purposes would be a shootout, because if you’re playing one-on-one you’re going to get breakaway after breakaway and eventually you’re going to score.  I think it would be great coaching strategy.  And then maybe just go to the winner takes all and you don’t get a point for going to overtime. 

I’m sure there will be other years where we’ll be sitting here talking about a different scenario and I may be thankful it was a certain way.  But clearly there were games that we gave away that were just our own fault that we could have picked up another three or four points in the standings just by getting to overtime."

On Cam Ward's play this season
Cam Ward’s play was good this year.  In the start of the season he was the reason we were winning most of those games.  We can talk about a lot of things because there were a lot of good things – people brought different things to our team when we had injuries, the players we called up and whatnot.  But really when you get right down to it, when we really went on that good run from the All-Star break on, Cam Ward was the difference in a lot of games.  He was selected as a first or second star in a lot of those games, and even in the games he wasn’t he made a difference.  Sure, there were a handful of games you can point to where he and the team probably would have viewed him as maybe we would have liked him to play a little bit better, but he played almost 70 games and when you play that many games you’re not going to be at your best every night.  But overall he had a good year.  He put us in a position to be in the playoffs, and certainly I can’t say it was the goaltending that did not get us in the playoffs, because it wasn’t.”

On how many changes he plans to make this offseason
“I don’t know.  It’s hard to say, because sometimes when you make one change it leads to another and then all of the sudden you’ve made four or five different changes.  I don’t expect a lot of changes to be made.  We presently sit here, debatably, with 10 top-nine forwards.  That’s not including Sutter or LaRose in that.  Sutter is a little bit young and LaRose has shown signs that he can play in the top nine, so we would have 10 or 11 top-nine forwards, and we’re going to have to fix our defense.  Even projecting and not knowing for sure at this point whether Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican are coming back, I have a lot of disappointment in the way our team played in our own end.  I like the style of play we have, I think it’s great for our fans, I think it’s fun to watch with the offense and I really don’t want to see that style change, but I do think we need to get away from cheating in the defensive zone on killing penalties and cheating in the defensive zone to go on the offense when we should be more responsible defensively.  Those are areas we have to look at.”

On the undisciplined play in November and December
“Part of what brought it on was the good start we had and not realizing how we had that good start.  I just spoke to the fact that we had great goaltending through that early run, and I think some players got comfortable and we lost our work ethic and lost sight of the fact that there’s not an easy team to play in this league.  There’s a lot of parity.  There’s going to be parity going forward, there are teams that are going to get better like the Pittsburghs and the Washingtons with their good young players, but the good news is that every team has a chance to be in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup year after year.  This team is probably in a stronger position today than we were a year ago with the number of players we have and the assets that we can fix our team, but with that being said we have to make the right decisions.”

On possibly moving up in the draft to get a defenseman
“My main priority right now, just jumping a little ahead of that, is signing Samsonov.  I’d really like to do that.  That to me is our organization’s main priority.  But beyond that, to your question, not necessarily.  You and I have had the conversation before and I know a lot of people don’t agree with me, but drafting defensemen in the first round and having to wait for them to develop three, four years to become good defensemen and then you really have them only for a couple more years before they go into free agency, I’m not sure it’s the way I want to go.  I probably lean more towards a forward, but anytime you can move up in the draft it gives you a better chance to get your choice of player.  It doesn’t always turn out he’s the best player, there’s guys that are selected later. 

We have our hockey meetings, all our scouts come in the first part of June, and that will be part of the discussion.  You’re right, there are a lot of good young defensemen in the draft, and maybe there’s a young defenseman there, like Phaneuf or a couple of these other guys, that do jump right in and play, but the majority of the defensemen take a long time to develop and so I’m always a little bit leaning more towards forwards.”

On what he saw in Sergei Samsonov prior to bringing him in
“First of all it was the circumstances.  We were in a situation where Williams was out for the season basically and then more players were getting injured and we were looking around the league for what we could do to add to our team.  His name was on a short list.  We went back over our notes and one of the things we talked about a lot was that he was an effective player when he played against us in the finals.  He didn’t put up a lot of points, but he was a really good player for Edmonton then.  Whatever happened to him in Montreal we really don’t know.  We did a lot of work on what happened to him in Chicago and we were told that he really didn’t get a chance to play with good players.  Even my good friend (Chicago General Manager) Dale Tallon who I made the trade with told me he’s a true pro and a hard worker and felt he could still play. He didn’t tell me he could get as many points as he got for us, because I don’t think anybody projected that.  We were very comfortable that he was an experienced NHL player that could come and still help our team, but he helped our team more than we expected and we expect him to that for a number of years ahead.  He’s still a young guy, he’s just 30.”

On what he expects from nogotiations with Samsonov
“You never know what kind of negotiation it’s going to be.  I think when he first came here he was just thankful to get the opportunity, and he still appreciates that.  In his exit meeting he was very clear, Thank you, thank you, and I really want to stay here.’ But at the same time he now has put himself in a position that other teams are saying ‘Oh yeah, we were thinking about picking him up too,’ which they weren’t, but now they see that the guy has rebounded and has got his offensive skills back.  If he gets into July 1, there will be those teams that said they were interested that will be.  I’m pretty confident that he’s going to end up staying here.  He really likes it here, and he’s a respectful guy and a loyal guy.  He knows that if he didn’t get this opportunity here that his hockey career in this league might very well have been over.  I expect him to be back.”

On Eric Staal stepping up into a leadership role
“The leadership is actually stronger now, because there’s kind of an imaginary line that’s out of respect for the really good team leaders.  I’ll wind the clock back a little bit here and go back to this team that didn’t know how to win through the Hartford years and when we first got here.  We first went and got Gary Roberts, a guy that knew how to win and was character, and he went in that locker room, and then the next step was getting Ronnie Francis. 

Ronnie Francis as we all know is a great leader, and he was great for this franchise, he’s helped the growth of hockey here and he was a good player for us.  But when he was the team captain, no one would cross that line through respect.  It was his team, his locker room.  We had Rod Brind’Amour at that time, and when Ronnie retired, you could see where Rod Brind’Amour took his game to another level and his leadership, because now it was his turn. 

What happened here through injury, is that Rod Brind’Amour moved out of the locker room for a period of time because of the injury, which meant that somebody had to step up, and our best player, Eric Staal, did that.  He was able to cross that line and be our team leader.  This was Eric Staal’s team.  Now when Rod Brind’Amour comes back in, there doesn’t need to be that line between these two leaders.  Now we have that veteran leader, we have our younger guy who is our best player, and both of those guys can lead this team.  I view that, it comes by accident because of the injury, but I view that as something that will make this team stronger.”

On the injuries the team experienced throughout the year
“The injuries had something to do with the end, because of the last game and we put players back into our lineup that were not ready to play, and it wasn’t fair to the players and it wasn’t fair to the overall team.  In that sense it affected it.  Last year we had key injuries in Stillman and Kaberle, and I said we wouldn’t use it as an excuse.  I don’t want this to be a story about an excuse, but I think there’s a legitimate point here that this team has a reason to use that as a reason why we didn’t make the playoffs.  There were stretches during the season there before we got it going where just prior to making the trade with Ottawa we had lost four games in a row.  We were lost.  We just didn’t have enough good players and we didn’t have enough work ethic and things like that. I think with the team we had, I don’t think we would have gone through the stretches we did if we had a healthy team.  With that, I want to just clarify that, I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but if we ever had a year that we could say that it made a difference, it made a difference.”

On if rushing players back into the lineup relates to his decision to delay the review of the coaching staff
“It’s emotion and gathering enough information for me to make the right decisions.  In our business everybody is always under review.  That’s just the way life works and the way sports works.  I need to look at the overall picture. I was very, very upset and disappointed when we went through that stretch in the first half of the season, and quite frankly I didn’t think our team would rebound from it, and we did.  We made some changes in the team and we rebounded and almost made it to where we needed to go.  I have a lot to think about.  That period of time bothers me more than losing the last game.”

”Regardless of what my answer is to you, you’re going to form your own opinion and you’re going to speculate whatever you want. I’ll say it, everything is under review, as it should be at the end of any season.  There’s been a lot of strange things happen in sports, there’s been some teams that have had great years or won championships and funny things have happened.  We had a season where in some ways I can say that I’m proud of what we did, but I’m just irritated by that 30-35 games in the first half of the season.  I don’t think that it needed to happen, and it cost us the playoffs.”

On his exit meetings with the players
“I think for the most part exit meetings are about the player’s performance, their own individual performance.  Periodically different years and including this year, players will say certain things that they’d like to say more, but they say enough that I understand what they’re saying.  Sure, there were things said during the exit meetings that I have to think about.  What does that really mean?  I wish you’d really say what you meant, but I think I know what you meant.  But players aren’t going to do that, and they shouldn’t.  It’s not for players to throw a teammate under the bus or a coach under the bus.  They have to take care of their futures.  What does this mean to them?  What did I do this year, what do I need to do better?  Where do I fit next year?  And basically that’s what they were.”

On the status of Keith Aucoin and Ryan Bayda
“I was really proud of those guys.  They have been up and down with us, they’ve been good depth guys and they played extremely well and showed that they’re capable of playing here.   This will be talked about in our hockey meetings in early June about who’s in and who’s out.  The one concern that we have talked about in the exit meetings and the coaches’ meetings is the size of our team.  Not a lot’s going to change with the size of our top nine forwards.  We’ve got a lot of skill guys, and you look at some of those teams that we have to compete with that are bigger and skate real well.  Do we have to change our fourth line and get it a little bit bigger, and if in fact that’s true, I don’t think their size is going to change over the offseason.  But I give them a lot of credit, and they may very well be back with us.  If we had a fourth line with them playing on it and they play the way they played, that works too, but that decision has not been made yet.”

On David Tanabe’s status
“He’s still not doing that well.  I’ve requested a couple of meetings with him to come into the office, and he hasn’t been able to come in.  His exit meeting was scheduled, and he didn’t come for it. Other that the reports I get from the doctors and the trainers it’s hard for me to give you a good answer because I’d like an answer too. 

He’s not able to drive, but his wife drives him to the doctor’s.  I know it’s more important to see the doctor than me, but I think he could be driven to see me.”

On if he wants to bolster the defense in free agency
“We have guys that we like on other teams that are under contract, and we have guys that we like that are coming into free agency.  I would suspect, based on what our budget will be for our team, that it would be more apt that we would trade a player for a defenseman, or trade two players for two defensemen, because if we don’t we can’t offset the money.  The fact that we have extra forwards, I would suspect that would be the way we do it.”

On if missing the playoffs will affect the player budget for next season
“When we do our budget we only do our budget based on the regular season.  Based on the regular season we’re going to lose money.  I would like to think we can keep our payroll at least at the same and not lower, but that’s a topic for another time when I go and meet with Mr. Karmanos and see where we want to go with that.  The one thing we know for sure is that this division is getting better and teams are not going to get worse.  In order to compete and win another Cup, we’re going to have be at a certain level.  It gets a little bit tricky when you’re in a lower-revenue smaller-market team, but I still think that we have the pieces here to make the adjustments we need to be a real good team in our conference next year.”
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