The Carolina Hurricanes’ season comes to an end Saturday, soon to be followed by what could be an uncertain offseason.
The Canes finish things up with a game against the Detroit Red Wings at PNC Arena. While the Wings are headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs for a 24th consecutive season, the Canes will be out of the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
“The situation we’re in is hard on us as players, to be in this spot another year,” defenseman Justin Faulk recently said.
It’s not what the Canes envisioned in September. They had a new coach, Bill Peters. Ron Francis, promoted to general manager last April, believed enough pieces were in place to be competitive, to contend for a spot in the playoffs.
The playoff hopes may have ended Sept. 23, when center Jordan Staal suffered a broken leg in a preseason game. In the Canes’ seventh and final preseason game, forward Jeff Skinner suffered a concussion and other injuries followed early in the regular season.
Injuries aside, the Canes were never a factor. They were winless in October, going 0-6-2, and were 10-23-4 after a New Year’s Eve loss to Pittsburgh. Their longest winning streak, four games, came in early November and they finished 12-25-4 on the road after a 3-1 victory Thursday over the Philadelphia Flyers.
With the exception of the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, the Canes (30-40-11) will finish with their fewest victories since winning 28 in 2003-2004. It will be the first time they’ve had 40 regulation losses since losing 43 in 2002-2003.
Some positive steps have been taken under Peters. The Canes improved their penalty killing, improved in such areas as goals allowed. Veteran goalie Cam Ward has had a bounceback season. Rookie center Victor Rask, thrust into the lineup with Staal sidelined the first 35 games, proved he can play at the NHL level.
“We made some adjustments to our system play as we went along this season and they were good adjustments,” Peters said.
Faulk was picked for the NHL All-Star game, continuing his ascent in the league at age 23. He has been the Canes’ most valuable player, a stalwart on the top defensive pairing.
Showing off a heavy, more accurate shot, Faulk has scored 15 goals and is the team’s second-leading scorer with 49 points. In a late-season game against Columbus, Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen was about to block a Faulk shot from the point, quickly thought better of it and backed away.
Faulk has played in the Olympics for the U.S., but has yet to play in a playoff game. The same can be said for many on the Canes’ roster.
“That would be fun to be a part of and something I hope I can be in the future,” Faulk said.
For the Canes, the immediate future includes planning for the NHL Draft in June. The NHL lottery will be held late this month – Carolina has an 8.5 percent chance of winning – and the Canes have 10 picks for the draft.
The Canes hoped to have 11. As part of the trade that sent defenseman Andrej Sekera to the Los Angeles Kings, the Canes were to receive the Kings’ first-round pick this year if L.A. reached the playoffs, or the first-rounder in 2016 if the Kings failed to qualify. The Kings were eliminated Thursday, keeping the pick this year.
But there are other, more meaty decisions to be made. Eric Staal will be in the final year of his contract next season, and there could be talks about an extension. And what to do about forward Alexander Semin, who was unproductive this season and has three years left on his contract at $7 million a year?
Francis has said he needs to find a defensive partner for Faulk and make other changes on the back end, which are needed, either through trades or free agency.
What do the Canes need to do to become a playoff team next season?
“There’s a lot of skill on this team but I think it’s more becoming responsible hockey players in all areas of the ice,” Faulk said. “The systems are there and I think they’re good systems. It’s just doing it on a consistent basis.”