Jeff Skinner had noticeable stubble on his chin Monday. Cam Ward, Justin Faulk, Nathan Gerbe and Jordan Staal had what could have passed for playoff beards.
Not that the Carolina Hurricanes are concerned about such things. For the sixth straight year, the Canes’ season has ended short of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the players’ beards, or stubble, were a personal choice heading into a long offseason.
Ward and Staal have won the Stanley Cup – Ward as a rookie goaltender with the Canes in 2006 and Staal in 2009 as a young center with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Canes captain Eric Staal, who was clean-shaven Monday, was the leading scorer in the 2006 playoffs and another who knows about the excitement that comes only in the postseason, when the intensity level ratchets up and hockey heroes emerge.
For most of the Canes – even defenseman Ron Hainsey, who has played 754 career NHL games – the playoffs remain an abstract, still an elusive goal, something that must first be experienced before players realize what they’re missing by not being in them.
“Until you experience it, I don’t think you do,” Ward said Monday. “It’s unfortunate because there’s no better time. And we all know what the playoffs are like here in Raleigh. That’s what I miss the most, giving the fans that opportunity again.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction. I know that’s tough to say when you’re standing here at the exit meetings, but we did show a lot of structure this year and promise heading into next year.”
The Hurricanes finished 30-41-11 in Bill Peters’ first year as an NHL head coach. The Canes showed some defensive improvement, were fourth in the NHL in penalty killing and third in faceoff percentage, and Skinner said there was “a lot of attention to detail.”
“There were positives, but unfortunately we’re in the win-and-loss business,” Hainsey said.
The Hurricanes had a stumbling start and never recovered. They could not score enough goals, especially five on five, and could not win enough close games.
“Five on five has to be better, and we have to create more offense and transition quicker and do all those things we need to do to win games,” Jordan Staal said.
Skinner, after scoring a career-high 33 goals last season, dipped to 18 and did not score in the season’s last 18 games. Alexander Semin, once a feared sniper in the league, had a career-low six goals in 57 games and Jordan Staal scored six in 46 games after returning from a broken leg.
Semin had wrist surgery after last season. But the Canes expect a lot more from a winger paid $7 million a year, and Peters at times made Semin a healthy scratch, saying Semin was not playing at an NHL pace.
“I know I score six goals this season and (it’s) not great for me,” Semin said Monday. “I had surgery last summer. Maybe that was (the) problem. Last half of season I feel great and have more shots and I feel better. I hope next season I feel all right.”
Skinner, 22, suffered a concussion in the Canes’ seventh preseason game, taking a hit to the head from Matt Niskanen of the Washington Capitals. He missed only a handful of games but never had a scoring hot streak and appeared tentative at times, although saying he was not backing off or fearful of another concussion.
“For me it was disappointing,” Skinner said. “I wouldn’t use the term ‘step back’ because every season is one you can learn from. You have to go through a tough year sometimes to figure things out or learn lessons you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
General manager Ron Francis and Peters conducted exit interviews Monday and will address the media at a Wednesday press conference.
Skinner said he would take a break from hockey the next few weeks before watching some of the Stanley Cup playoffs on television. Then it’s back to offseason workouts, back to preparing for his sixth NHL season – and, he hopes, his first taste of the playoffs. And playoff beards.
Asked about his whiskers, Skinner smiled, rubbed them and said, “I really want to work on this next year this time.”