By Brian LeBlanc
NCSportsTalk.com - Puck Drops
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Every year, the Hurricanes graciously host the local media in a "getting-to-know-you" setting that, for some, includes a day on a local golf course with Canes players, coaches and executives. That group, unsurprisingly, does not include yours truly, and will not unless they decide to hold the outing on a local miniature golf course. (I'm mean with a putter, but more of my golf balls hit off a tee wind up on local highways than they do on greens. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.)
To no one's surprise, GM Jim Rutherford's group finished first (for the third year in a row) among about twelve foursomes, and I have a feeling the Canes stashed an intern at the back of each green to always give the big boss a good lie á là a Simpsons episode from years ago, with Rutherford playing the role of Mr. Burns and the unsuspecting intern in the role of Smithers.
Anyway, rather than recapping the golf game of various players and media members, I figure you care more about what those players and their coaches and executives had to say about the upcoming season. Last year, the general sense among the attendees was that the Canes were well on their way to reprising their appearance in the conference final. Then, last year happened.
So it's rather unsurprising that the mood this year was upbeat for a different reason. Instead of having great expectations, there's almost a carefree sense throughout the organization. They still feel that the team will be competitive and, if everything goes right, perhaps sneak into the postseason. But where last year the scuttlebutt was that the playoffs were all but assured, by contrast this year the P-word was never even mentioned in six interviews I conducted.
So what was mentioned? Youth, for one. I got the sense that coach Paul Maurice in particular is relishing the chance to have the ability to mold the young players that will comprise most of the roster this year. It was a shock for a couple of us when I realized that fully three-quarters of the roster is younger than me, and a writer for the Associated Press who is only a couple of years older than I am is now older than the entire team. It's going to be incumbent on the likes of Eric Staal, Tim Gleason, Cam Ward et al. to take the mantle of leadership; indeed, when we thought about it for a second, we realized that Staal is the only player left in the locker room to have worn a captain's letter for all of last season.
Obviously, the early-season trip to Finland was a topic of conversation as well. Given how last year started, a good start is imperative to begin the 2010-11 season. But since the Canes will not play a game at the RBC Center until the season is three weeks old, just keeping the team's collective head above water will be a challenge. (Paul Maurice said that he's figured out that he will spend just four nights the entire month of October in his own bed. Sounds like fun, right?)
One minor bit of news: Rutherford says he anticipates one or two NHL veterans attending training camp, either on a tryout basis or on a two-way contract that he will finalize in the next week or so. He was very clear, though, in saying that no one would be gifted a roster spot, and to that end he will not be handing out one-way deals with open invitations to claim a spot. In other words, don't expect a Stephane Yelle or Josef Melichar-type signing this season.
It was a great time in a very relaxed setting, with plenty of opportunities for candid commentary from all sorts of folks within the organization. Click below for the audio files from today's event:
Paul Maurice (5:21)
Chad LaRose (3:11)
Joe Corvo (2:45)
Cam Ward (2:16)
Eric Staal (4:51)
Jim Rutherford (14:33)
One more week until training camp starts. The Canes will report on Friday, September 17 for physical testing, and they hit the ice for the first time at the RBC Center the next day.