Jim Rutherford and Paul Maurice once handled the thankless duties.
Then Rutherford and Kirk Muller.
The past three years, it has been Ron Francis and Bill Peters.
With the Stanley Cup playoffs about to begin, the Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager and coach were facing the media Wednesday, answering questions, again assessing what went wrong this season and explaining what has to be done moving forward to be a playoff-caliber team.
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The Hurricanes have missed the playoffs for an eighth straight season – first with Rutherford as GM and Maurice the coach, then Muller coaching, and now Francis as GM and Peters the coach. Different faces, same result.
“I think we go into every season thinking that’s our goal – we want to make the playoffs and get a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. This year’s no different,” Francis said. “There’s a lot of things we got better in and things that maybe stayed status quo. At the end of the day it ended up not being good enough.”
The final record was 36-31-15. The Canes’ 87 points left them eight points out of playoff position and 12th in the Eastern Conference.
A year ago, Carolina was 35-31-16 and with 86 points were 10 points out of playoff position. While the record this season was just marginally better, Francis said it didn’t fully reflect the improvement in a season when the schedule was tightly condensed and the Canes were the league’s youngest team after the trade deadline.
“Disappointing we didn’t get in, but I do think we did make progress,” Francis said. “There are things we still need to fix but maybe not as daunting a task as we were looking at in previous years.”
The Hurricanes were 23-12-6 at home but 13-19-9 on the road after going 5-2-1 in their final eight away games. In the Metropolitan Division, the league’s best this season, Carolina was 11-15–4.
“Our team is better now than it was a year ago at this time when we met,” Peters said. “Statistically it’s very close. It doesn’t look like it is (better). But our division was a great division, with four teams over 100 points. We have to find a way to close that gap.”
In assessing the team’s biggest offseason need, Francis said, “If we look at the team it’s not a secret – our goals-against (2.76) was 18th and our save percentage (.901) was tied for 27th in the league. That’s certainly an area we have to look at closely and fix.”
Francis said one change already had been made. Goaltending coach Dave Marcoux will not have his contract renewed, Francis said.
The goaltending, with Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, was inconsistent at best and borderline awful at times. It didn’t help that Lack suffered a concussion early in the season in a practice fall, then sustained another concussion – being hit by a soccer ball in a pregame hallway warm-up, Francis said – in late December. That added to Ward’s workload.
Francis said with teams exposing goalies for the NHL expansion draft, stocking the new roster for the Vegas Golden Knights, and other goalies being available in free agency, the Canes could look to make a move, through trades or signings.
The Canes have 11 picks in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, including seven in the first three rounds. Peters, with a smile, said he hoped the Canes wouldn’t use but three of the seven – that is, that Francis use some assets to make trades.
Peters said that’s what we needed to close the gap in the Metro. Bringing in players from the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ American Hockey League affiliate, won’t get it done, he said.
“We have very specific needs,” Peters said. “As a coach I’m going to give very specific names and put them in situations where they’re going to help a person on a line, in theory.”
Francis said the Canes would be looking to add a player or two who can provide scoring help. He also said there could be changes at the fifth and sixth defensemen.
Some players will keep playing hockey, at the 2017 IIHF World Championship in Paris and Cologne, Germany. Forward Jeff Skinner is expected to compete for Canada, forward Sebastian Aho for Finland, and forwards Elias Lindholm, Victor Rask and Joakim Nordstrom for Sweden.
Defensemen Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin declined invitations from Team USA but D-men Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce may be selected.