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Season Recap

Young defense corps has 'Cane-do attitude

Carolina has pieces to build around, but Staal, Ward may go

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Carolina Hurricanes missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the seventh straight season, finishing sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a 35-31-16 record. Although the Hurricanes improved by five wins from 2014-15, they finished 28th in the NHL in goals scored.

After an 8-13-4 start, the Hurricanes relied heavily on a youth movement that included defensemen Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, who entered the League directly from college campuses. Along with defenseman Justin Faulk, 24, they played to rave reviews from management the rest of the season.

But the Hurricanes struggled to score goals. Jeff Skinner (28 goals), Victor Rask (21) and Jordan Staal (20) made steady scoring contributions, but no other forward had more than 11.

"Obviously we needed a few more," Skinner said. "Coming down the stretch, we had a lot of games going to overtime and shootouts. If you can find that goal late, maybe it doesn't go to overtime. It makes a big difference. It's tough to win when you can't put the puck in the net."

Carolina's forward ranks will have a new look next season following the trades of forwards Eric Staal and Kris Versteeg prior to the NHL Trade Deadline. Four other forwards -- Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash, Chris Terry and Brad Malone -- are unrestricted free agents.

Video: MTL@CAR: Nash's wrister gives Hurricanes early lead

WHAT THEY SAID: "There's more of a positive vibe in the direction we're heading. There are some exciting things, especially with the youth in our lineup. We have to look at each and every option to try to make ourselves better because we're on the outside [of the Stanley Cup Playoffs] looking in, and we've got to get on the inside." - Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Will center Jordan Staal and goaltender Cam Ward return?

With the trade of Eric Staal to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28, Jordan Staal was not definitive in committing to play for the Hurricanes next season.

"It's been fine, it's been fun," Staal said. "We'll see what happens this summer with Eric and everything else and myself, and we'll go from there."

Staal, who has seven years and $42 million remaining on his contract, seemed to leave the door open for a return.

"For right now, I've really enjoyed myself in Carolina," he said. "I really appreciate this young group that's coming up and playing well and want to be a part of that. That excites me. Yeah, we'll see where it takes us."

Francis addressed the possibility Staal might want to consider playing elsewhere.

"We have had some conversations in the past about that scenario," Francis said, "but certainly that's one of the reasons we're giving him some time to get away from the season and see where everything is at. When we sit down, that will certainly be on of things we discuss, no question."

Video: CAR@BOS: Ward denies GWG with sliding glove save

After 10 years as Carolina's starting goaltender, Ward is an unrestricted free agent. Francis said re-signing Ward is a possibility, but the Hurricanes also would look at trade options and goaltenders who will be available in free agency.

Ward said he would like to come back.

"I'm not ready to close that door," Ward said. "I'm remaining optimistic that something can happen. I've made it clear that this is where I would like to be. Obviously, the feeling needs to be mutual on both sides.

"I've been very fortunate to have been here as long as I have been. There have been a lot of ups and downs. I see the direction the organization is going with the young group. and I'd like to be a part of that."

INJURIES: Center Elias Lindholm will have minor foot surgery and left wing Joakim Nordstrom will have wrist surgery. Centers Victor Rask (shoulder) and Andrej Nestrasil (back) are undecided on whether they will have surgery.

WHO COULD GO: Ward, Jordan Staal, Nathan Gerbe, Riley Nash, Chris Terry, Brad Malone.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Scoring forwards, veteran depth forwards, starting goaltender.

2016 DRAFT PICKS: 11 (including two in the first round, two in the second round and three in the third round)

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The play of the young defensive group gives the Hurricanes a reliable group for the foreseeable future. There are more defensemen in the organization who appear to have bright futures, too.

The Hurricanes also have young forwards who have shown they can contribute. Rask proved he could handle a top-six role at center, while Nordstrom showed a scoring touch and improved steadily playing on a line with Jordan Staal. Phil DiGiuseppe scored 17 points in 41 games and will have a chance to earn a spot with Carolina next season.

The Hurricanes had 16 overtime losses, most in the NHL. If they can turn half of those close games into wins, their playoff fortunes could turn quickly.

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