RALEIGH — The Hurricanes exited the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs bitter and battered.
Carolina’s special teams, even its league-best penalty kill, sputtered in the seven-game series with the New York Rangers.
Seth Jarvis, the 20-year-old rookie who looks like a future star, crawled his way out of the game and season following a high hit from New York defenseman Jacob Trouba.
And Antti Raanta gave critics of the front office’s decision to replace last season’s goalies with injury-prone replacements reason to crow when he joined Frederik Andersen in the trainer’s room in the second period.
All the things the Hurricanes built their season around — from shot volume and chaos that leads to goals to a suffocating penalty kill and a serviceable power play — came crashing down in a 6-2 loss in Game 7 on Monday at PNC Arena.
“We’ve got to have our big players come up big-time,” defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “And it didn’t happen.”
Coach Rod Brind’Amour wanted to make the Hurricanes relevant, and he’s done that. In the moment, that’s fine. But no one remembers simply relevance.
So after an offseason of pundits wondering if Carolina got worse only to be proven wrong, the team instead is in the same place it was a year ago — a series win shy of the Eastern Conference Final that it improbably reached in Brind’Amour’s first season behind the bench.
“This, when it ends, it’s always tough,” Brind’Amour said. “Tougher maybe because I felt like we’re in a different spot this year.”
And now, changes are coming.
Vincent Trocheck is likely on the way out with Jesperi Kotkaniemi expected to take on a bigger role. Nino Niederreiter, also an unrestricted free agent, has a better chance of being back but would probably need to take a pay cut on his $5.25 million contract.
Brendan Smith, Ian Cole and Max Domi look like one-and-done additions.
And there are decisions to be made on key restricted free agents.
Defenseman Tony DeAngelo did everything the Hurricanes asked of him in the regular season, putting up 51 points and keeping his nose clean.
But in the Rangers’ series he had just two assists and was more noticeable for his after-the-whistle antics than anything that happened with the puck in play.
Martin Necas, the former first round pick who was expected to be a centerpiece of Carolina’s future, was about as useful as a holiday centerpiece in the postseason.
He and his agent think the 23-year-old is in line for a big payday after essentially playing four seasons on his three-year entry-level contract, but that money will probably come from another team as Necas will be at the top of the Hurricanes’ trade bait list.
And Ethan Bear, who started the season on the top defense pairing with Slavin, watched the entire postseason from the press box, scratched in favor of veterans Cole and Smith. The team will either need to rebuild its relationship with the soon-to-be 25-year-old or make him part of the upcoming overhaul.
One of Carolina’s targets might be a top-flight goal scorer after the team managed just 13 goals in seven games on New York goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Brind’Amour said in the aftermath of the team’s elimination that the Hurricanes are creating plenty of opportunities but perhaps not finishing enough of them.
“Do we have elite goal scorers? Maybe not,” he said, “but we have great players. We’re built a little differently than some other teams, and that’s OK. You’ve got to play to your strengths, and I think we did that. It just didn’t work out.”
But all of those thoughts and the decisions that could come from them were mostly on the back burner Monday night.
Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal, 33 years old with one season remaining on his 10-year contract, looked on the verge of tears talking about the team’s abrupt end to the season.
“It’s a seven-game series, you would think the right team wins,” the seemingly shocked Staal said.
The Hurricanes will have four months to mull over what went wrong to a team that posted the best regular season record in franchise history only to lose to an opponent they were expected to dispatch with little trouble.
Brind’Amour has made the Hurricanes relevant. Now he must figure out how to make them unforgettable.