RALEIGH — Rod Brind'Amour can't get through the supermarket without someone asking him whether he's going to play next season. And all he can think is, "Why isn't everyone asking the other guys with a year left on their contract?"
After 21 years in the game, Brind'Amour is no wide-eyed rookie. He's a weathered veteran who understands as well as anyone the way the business works. And because of that, he knows it may not be up to him whether he plays for the Hurricanes next season.
As things stand right now, he has a year left on his contract, and he plans to fulfill it. That doesn't mean he hasn't thought about retiring. It just means he's not ready to retire yet.
"Everybody thinks about it, whether they're two years in or 10 years in," Brind'Amour said Tuesday. "You assess where you're at, what your goals for the future are. The only thing I would say, had things gone differently this year, I don't think anyone would be asking me what I'm doing next year. It sounded kind of weird when everyone was asking me at the end of the year, just because I still had a year left to play."
Now, Brind'Amour is willing to admit that on the first day of June, it's easy to look forward to next season with optimism. When he starts getting into his offseason workouts in earnest, if he can't keep up with Chad LaRose on the ice, he's prepared to walk away.
But it is not a decision he's ready to make right now.
"If we crank it up in June, July, August, if I get to that point and say I can't do it, then it's a different story," Brind'Amour said. "There's a whole different thought process that would come into play. Until I get in that situation, I'm preparing to play."
When the Hurricanes signed Brind'Amour to a five-year contract extension only days after winning the Stanley Cup, they shrugged off questions about whether that might have been too long for a 35-year-old player by saying that Brind'Amour had earned that much.
Now that the fifth year has rolled around, and Brind'Amour is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, the Hurricanes want to get younger and cheaper in a hurry. Having the league's highest-paid fourth-line center, at $3 million per season, doesn't exactly meet those standards.
"I know that from their point of view, I may not fit in," Brind'Amour said. "They might have to do something about that. They've done it with other guys, too. It isn't shocking."
Brind'Amour was willing to give up the captaincy to Eric Staal in midseason to help the youth movement along, but he isn't willing to step aside entirely. Not yet. If the Hurricanes want him gone now, they will have to buy out the final year of his contract for $2 million.
If they do, Brind'Amour will try to find another team, but he sees playing elsewhere as the least palatable of all his options. His kids don't want to move, and he's getting married later this summer to someone he met here.
He knows what his role with the Hurricanes would be, and he won't complain, because if this is the final season of his career, this is where he wants to play it.
"I know that because I'm 39, we all know that's getting to the end, but if you look back to even the summer before this last year, I was in the best shape on the team. Age, to me, isn't the determining factor. Obviously, the ability to play, the role you have, all these things come into play.
"At the end of the day, we all know - you, me, everyone that knows anything about hockey - that this is coming to the end. I never planned to play past the end of my contract. ... In my head, it's always been that way."