With the hockey season over, the Canes players went through final physicals today and will have their exit interviews with general manager Jim Rutherford and coach Kirk Muller tomorrow at PNC Arena before scattering.
Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner said they will play for Team Canada in the upcoming IIHF World Championship. Justin Faulk and Pat Dwyer accepted invitations from Team USA, and Jussi Jokinen and possibly Tuomo Ruutu will play for Finland in the competition, which will be held next month in Finland and Sweden.
Jeremy Welsh, the 23-year-old center who made his NHL debut Saturday against the Florida Panthers, will be back in class at Union College by Wednesday.
"To say the obvious, it's disappointing we're here this early and not in the playoffs," Rutherford said at an end-of-season media session. "I feel we have made some strides forward here in the second half of the season and that's what we have to build on now."
With a 33-33-16 record, the Hurricanes finished 12th in the Eastern Conference, and with 82 points closed 10 points out of playoff position. They had one shootout win this season (1-6), the worst in the league, and only one team (Columbus) had fewer road wins than the Canes' 13.
A slow start led to the firing of Paul Maurice on Nov. 28. Muller was hired and was 25-20-12 in 57 games as coach.
"Obviously we went through some difficult times," goaltender Cam Ward said today. "It's never easy going through a coaching change. Emotionally it was very fatiguing the first half of the season. But when you look at the second half there were definitely a lot of positives to build on and prove the way we can play and the potential that we have."
Rutherford said changes would be forthcoming for next season. Among them: Rod Brind'Amour will become a fulltime assistant coach after splitting time as a Canes assistant coach and working with the forwards in Charlotte (AHL) while also fulfilling a promise to coach his son's youth team this year.
Rutherford said other decisions on the coaching staff should be made this week.
Bryan Allen and Jaroslav Spacek will become unrestricted free agents on July 1 and there are decisions to be made on both veteran defensemen. Allen had a $3.15 million salary this season, and Spacek, picked up from Montreal in a Dec. 9 trade, was paid $3.83 million.
The Canes may look to re-sign either Allen or Spacek, but only at a reduced salary.
Rutherford again said acquiring a goal-scoring forward to play with captain Eric Staal would be the leading offseason priority -- either through free agency or a trade. He said the financial resources are available to seek out such a player.
"The biggest thing for us, to take that big step forward, is a top-line player," he said.
Staal, with a late finishing kick, again was the Canes' top scorer with 70 points. Jussi Jokinen had 46 points and Jeff Skinner 44, so there was a significant dropoff.
Skinner had 31 goals and 63 points in a sensational first season when he was the NHL's Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, but closed with 20 goals in his sophomore season after missing 16 games with a concussion.
"It was little bit frustrating," Skinner said today. "There's some challenges. You expect some challenges but you learn from them. I learned a lot this year. Going through those tough times is tough, but at the end you learn from stuff that hopefully can make you better in the future."
Skinner lost his composure at times and took some bad penalties. He also was suspended two games late in the season for kicking at Scott Nichol of the St. Louis Blues.
Muller said he expected Skinner, who turns 20 next month, to be a more mature player next season.
"I think you'll see a different Jeff Skinner next year," Muller said. "He's a proud kid, he's young. You can call it the sophomore jinx or whatever it is, a lot of pro athletes come back their second year and have a tough time. It's a tough league.
"He walked in last year and probably caught some people off-guard. He's highly skilled, he's a game-breaking type player. He probably walked into this season like most rookies thinking it's going to be that much easier and he'll be that much better and he'll get that many more points. What you forget is your opponent is a little more aware of you and put a little more attention on you.
"It was a learning year for him. When he reflects on it this summer, I think he's going to be a better prepared athlete next year. He's going to be ready for it all."
Chad LaRose matched his career high with 19 goals and tied for the team lead with five game-winners. Jiri Tlusty had career highs in games (79), goals (17), assists (19) and points (36).
"It's real hard not making the playoffs," Tlusty said today. "The second half of the season we played well and I think we deserved to be in the playoffs, but we put ourselves in a big hole at the start of the season. It's disappointing but we have to move on."
Faulk's rookie season ended with him leading the Canes' skaters in ice time per game (22:50). He also led the NHL's rookie defensemen in ice time and power-play goals (5) and was tied for first in goals (8).
"I had a lot of fun," Faulk said today. "I was pretty honored to be able to play in this league. ... I think it went pretty well. There's obviously a lot of things to work on to get better and to improve on, but for the most part I thought it went well."