The Carolina Hurricanes are primed to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season — the second under head coach Kirk Muller — and, on Monday, Muller voiced his frustration about the lack of winning.
At the end of the team practice at Raleigh Center Ice, Muller gathered his players around him on the ice for a few words. He was loud and his message clear.
Muller talked of “wanting guys who want to make a difference.” He said “losing is for losers” and that too many of the players were cheating and “playing their own way.”
Too many, he said, were “playing for the scoresheet” and worried about getting theirs. Some were more worried about new contracts, he said, and others about somehow holding on and playing another year in NHL.
Carolina has been one of the NHL’s biggest disappointments over the last two seasons, especially given all the money GM Jim Rutherford has spent on talent acquisition. Nearly $130 million was committed to the Jordan Staal, Alex Semin and Jeff Skinner trio and while all three have had their moments, it hasn’t been enough to keep the ‘Canes in the playoff hunt.
Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the players Muller suggested were playing for new deals.
Carolina only has 13 players under contract for next season, and has decisions to make on a number of key UFAs — including veteran defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Ron Hainsey, and veteran forwards Manny Malhotra and Radek Dvorak.
There are also a number of RFAs the team will need to decide on as well: Jiri Tlusty, Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman, Nathan Gerbe, Brett Bellemore and, most importantly, Olympic defenseman Justin Faulk, who figures to be in line for a sizable raise on the $840,000 he made this season.
For all the players with uncertain futures, one thing is clear — Muller and the ‘Canes are using the final few games of this season as an audition for next year and beyond.
“We’re moving forward,” Muller said. “If you want to fit in, show it. Do it with work. I don’t want guys who don’t show up, who have bad body language. We’re going to practice hard, we’re going to play hard and we’re going to win games.”