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Rutherford Holds End-of-Season Press Conference

by Staff Writer / Carolina Hurricanes

Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford held a press conference on Tuesday, April 10, to address the media for the final time this season.  Read on for a complete transcript as Rutherford addressed the media about this season and his plans to improve the team over the summer.

On the letdown from last year

RUTHERFORD: We expected a letdown for a period of time, but we certainly didn’t expect a letdown for 82 games.  The fact that we were inconsistent for most of the season, we still put ourselves in a strong position even with a few weeks left in the season. 

When you look at it all, we had 88 points, I’m sure easily with our core play and inconsistency you could look at a minimum of five games or six games that would have got us to 100 points in a year where we were inconsistent and not focused from the start.  We can look at this on a negative side, which it is, we can take as many positives out of it and move forward, which I think that’s what we intend to do.  We intend to prepare ourselves, prepare ourselves for the first day of camp like we did the year we won and have a chance to win again.

On the New Jersey Devils being the last team to win the Stanley Cup and miss the playoffs the following year

RUTHERFORD: We have a similar structure, I believe, to the Devils.  I don’t want to start comparing player to player, but a lot of their success was built around having such a great goalie.  This was a year where we were in a transition year of a young goalie becoming a number one goalie.  Unless you’ve been a goalie and been through that, you really don’t understand what that means. 

Both our goalies are good, John Grahame gave us some games, he’s a good goalie.  Cam Ward is going to have a great career, but his toughest year of his career is behind him, that transition year.  So if you carry that over into your question about the Devils and where this team can go with the need to have great goaltending to win the Stanley Cup again, your answer is yes, we could do that. The nucleus of this team is very strong, we have a lot of good players, and we have the structure in place to win again.

On his meetings with the players Monday

RUTHERFORD: The player meetings for me are more fact-finding meetings as to their thoughts of how they played and some of their thoughts as to what went wrong during the season.  Peter had his meetings also, so he’ll have some information from the players.  We’ll gather this information and put it all together to see if that can help us make some decisions going forward. 

I think if you go back in general, the year we won the cup, there was a focus from the first day of camp, and it was all business.  The players were anxious to play, and anxious to win.  We might as well not have even had training camp this year.  Not anybody’s fault, but the players were still tired.  They weren’t rested.  There wasn’t the focus on that camp that there needs to be, and that’s one thing that we’re going to be able to do this year, unfortunately.  We’ll have five months to prepare for it.  But we’ll have the same focus at the start of next year’s training camp as the year we won the cup.  We’ll get off to a better start, we’ll have more team togetherness, and the players will be more hungry.  That’s basically the general message I’m getting from the players. 

On the team's trouble with focus this season

RUTHERFORD: It’s not any one of those issues.  It would be for the same reason that if you had to work your job 30 days in a row and somebody would ask you to work 24 hours the next day and be on top of your game.  It is very, very difficult.  No excuses, we make no excuses for what happened this year, it’s nobody’s fault but our own.  We all played our part and played a role in what happened.

But the fact of the matter is, we did not have the energy coming into camp for the start of the season, and quite frankly, there were times when the team started to play better through stretches but just couldn’t quite get that energy level on a consistent basis.  Everyone can relate to it in their own personal life.  There’s times where you go through stretches with your kids when you get worn out, there’s times where you go through stretches with your job when you get worn out, and this is what happened to our team this year.

On Coach Peter Laviolette

RUTHERFORD: Peter had a very difficult job.  He’s the guy that has to steer the ship that’s difficult to do.  I think it’s difficult, I think Peter did a good job.  It’s so easy for all of us, from my position, to the owner’s position to the fan’s position to sit and say you know, we could have done this, we could have done that.  Sure, we could’ve.  Our ideas may not have worked either, but the fact of the matter is, Peter did an excellent job bringing the Stanley Cup to Carolina for the Carolina Hurricanes, and then to enter the season where we had two key players that weren’t ready to play and actually never caught up in Stillman and Kaberle, who were key players.  I think Stillman had the most points for us last year; Kaberle had the most points for a defensemen.  We entered training camp without a lot of energy - it was a very difficult job.  And it’s a job that he will have again, because we believe we’re going to win again.  We all hope we enter another training camp real soon, with these players being tired, and that’s our goal.

On whether fans will lose enthusiasm after the team missed the playoffs

RUTHERFORD: It’s not any different in this city than in any other city.  Clearly you generate more excitement and it’s more appealing for the fans to come and see a winning team.  I believe we’ve positioned ourselves now where we have more hardcore fans than just fans that want to jump on the bandwagon.  We’ll see some people that we’ll lose as season ticket holders that were disappointed in the season. We’ll get new season ticket holders.  This market’s growing. 

But the people that believe in the Hurricanes and enjoy a good sporting event, we have it here.  We’ll still have it here, and our team will bounce back.  If they don’t jump on board right away and wait and see, we’ll understand that, but we’ll get off to a good start and try to convince people to come back.

On injuries

RUTHERFORD: We don’t know yet.  We get these little injures that turn into big injuries where players have little tears on their shoulders, little tears on their knees.  Doctors have to decide, are they going to heal over a few months or do they need to be operated on?  I can’t give you a good answer on that.  One, we wont’ be in as serious of a problem that we had last year because we have longer for these guys to heal, and two, if a player has to be operated on, the doctors and the trainers will make that decision a lot earlier than they did last year.

On if players will have surgery earlier than they did last year

RUTHERFORD: It’s a tough one, because the reason they wait is to see if the player heals, and they’d prefer to them to heal than operate on them.  But now with what happened last year, I think that everyone is looking at making a decision a little earlier.  It makes it tougher on the doctor but we will trust in their decisions and certainly hope not to be put in a position like we were with Stillman and Kaberle.

On if he regrets players leaving after last season

RUTHERFORD: The only player that I think that we lost that really had an impact on the team was Matt Cullen.  And in sports, it happens everywhere, except maybe with the Yankees, teams can’t keep players all the time.  You have to make decisions financially, and that decision is not necessarily made on the first year, it’s based on the cap system, and if you don’t have a structure in your payroll, eventually the cap system will bite you.  Could we have paid Matt Cullen $2.8 (million) like the Rangers did this year?  Yeah, we could have done that.  Would it have affected us down the road?  Probably. If you just take the contract aside, which I don’t blame him for going for the money, he got quite a bit more than we offered him, he would have helped our team.  He’s a good player.  He was a good player for us last year and he’s going to help any team.

The biggest problem with our team was not that we lost Matt Cullen, the biggest problem was that I couldn’t fill the void that he left.  We have to find a third line center that can bring more to our team than the guys that played that position this year.  And that will be one of the things we work on this summer.

On unrestricted free agents Ray Whitney and Scott Walker

RUTHERFORD: The players all talk to each other.  The players all know exactly how the players feel that left here after least year.  In Walker’s case and Ray Whitney’s case, I’ve had the exit meetings with them, they want to stay, and we’re going to do the best we can to keep them here.  One of the issues I have with my job is juggling the business part of it, the financial part of it.  We raised our payroll from winning the Stanley Cup to last year probably by about $8 million.  Now, in order to keep these players, we’re going to have to raise our payroll another $4 million.  Where does that money come from?  It has to come from somewhere.  So we have to figure out how we do that.  We like to do the best we can with our ticket prices, we need to do better in our corporate sales, but we have to figure out where to get that money and then to pay these players properly.  We’re going to the best we can in the best way we can to do it.

On the team’s young player prospects

RUTHERFORD: When you have a development team, it’s not always how you view your prospects at the start of the year; it’s more at the end of the year.  Now, at the end of the year, (Brett) Carson, the first-year defenseman, has put himself in a position that he can be a depth player here next year.  He can actually come up and play some games, and he’s now tracking towards be a Hurricane at some point. 

We had a free agent signing in Noah Babin, and he has played extremely well, granted he hasn’t played a lot of games and it’s early.  He is an older player, because he’s out of college, so he’s a player now that’s a depth player.  We’re signing some of our players, getting them out of junior and college, so I think we’re starting to stock the cupboards a little bit more.  It’s not where we’d like it to be, but I don’t think it’s as bad as maybe it was going in to the season.

On Center Eric Staal

RUTHERFORD: I think it’s just a matter of preparation for next season.  This is a relatively young player that got 100 points and helped his team win the Stanley Cup and then had his first short off season of his hockey career.  He learned a lot from it, he’ll prepare different, he’ll come to camp more prepared to be that dominant player.  But, in fairness to Eric Staal, after you have a 100 point season, you also get a lot more attention from the other team.  There were lots of nights where he’d get the puck and he’d have two players checking him instead of one.  So now he has to learn how to work through that and how to play through that to become a superstar in this league.  But he has all the tools to do it, and I believe he will.

On Hurricanes players going to the IIHF World Championships

RUTHERFORD: I think it’s a great experience to play in international hockey.  It’s a different style of hockey, and a whole different experience.  And then you get to play with different players on other teams, and the other part is that they don’t get five months off, now they get more like four months, which is better for them.  It’ll be a great experience.  (Chad) LaRose and (Erik) Cole and Grahame will be on the U.S. team.  I have not got the list yet, but I know that (Dennis) Seidenberg was asked to go, but I don’t know if he’s going.  If all our guys go that were asked, it will be at least half our team, which is not any consolation for not being in the playoffs, but it’s a great experience for all our players. 

On the performance of players in contract years

RUTHERFORD: I think you see it in all sports.  A lot of players elevate their games in their contract years.  But I don’t think its just about that.  For guys that get their first big contracts where they get multi-million dollar contracts over multi years, you’re in a whole different dynamic now.  The dressing room changes, it changes everything.  Guys have to adjust to that, and the leadership has to adjust to that, and I think that played a little bit of a role in our togetherness here where that dynamic changed, and I think that can be fixed.

On the team's other unrestricted free agents

RUTHERFORD: We’re going to have our hockey meetings in the first week of June, where it will be a meeting with Peter (Laviolette) and Jason (Karmanos) and Ronnie Francis and Marshall Johnston, and that’s where we’ll really talk about who fits where.  Clearly the priority now, and I’ll start working on it this week, is Ray Whitney and Scott Walker.  But we will deal with those other players once we determine what changes we want to make with our team.
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