Gold: ‘Total team effort‘ dooms Hurricanes in another season to forget

For the first time in a week in which the Carolina Hurricanes took three leads into the second intermission, the Canes managed to drag the game across the finish line for two points. Though the outcome will have little impact in the standings, that die has been cast, it was certainly nice to see them finish off a team with a quality final period.

With that said, , another Metropolitan Division team headed for an early offseason, doesn‘t do much to change what we‘ve seen all year long.

The Hurricanes have been a collective failure.

It‘s been a total team effort. From top to bottom, the Canes have underachieved in every measurable way. It cost former General Manager Ron Francis his job. It may yet cost head coach Bill Peters his. And it will undoubtedly see a roster shake up, assuming that new owner Tom Dundon can find the right candidate to take on the job of GM — something that has not gone well out of the gate.

The Canes are playing out the string on what will soon officially become their ninth straight season without postseason hockey. Saturday night, in front of yet another bi-partisan crowd at PNC Arena, Carolina suffered its latest come-from-ahead loss, this one, by a 4-2 score to the Flyers.

While it wasn’t identical to Tuesday night’s house-of-cards collapse to the Bruins, it bore enough of a resemblance to that gut-wrenching 6-4 setback.

“It sure felt that way,” a visibly dejected Jordan Staal told me after the game. “It felt very similar, (pause) disappointing, (long pause) frustrating.”

But it’s what Staal said later that set off alarms inside my head and confirmed what many of you long-suffering fans have probably wondered about over the last half of the season. In answering a question about a “culture of losing” Staal responded by saying that, “there’s a lot of players in this room that care…”

“A lot of players” is not “everyone.”

Maybe that’s looking for something that isn’t really there, but having been in the locker room as much as I have this year, I have to admit that I’ve wondered just how many of the Hurricanes are physically sickened by not only THAT the team is losing but HOW they’ve lost so many of these games.

For his part, head coach Bill Peters agreed.

“Some guys are fully vested and some guys aren’t where they need to be,” Peters said after the game. When I asked him about weeding out those players, he suggested that this was an end-of-the-season issue. But is it really?

There have been at least a half dozen games this year in which the Canes were simply embarrassed by an opponent. Whether it was in Toronto during that odd, mid-afternoon, weekday start to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the NHL. Or the 7-1 pasting in Boston. Or home no-shows against the Golden Knights or Penguins.

Maybe it was gruesome late-game collapses like happened in January to the Capitals on the very day Dundon was introduced as the official majority owner. Or maybe it was back in December in San Jose when the Hurricanes coughed away a 3-goal lead. Then twice this week, third-period leads melted down in a sea of attention-to-detail atrocities.

Either way, this season has largely been one self-inflicted wound after another. And I’m not certain that the team has complete buy-in to the mission at hand. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m certain that there isn’t.

The Hurricanes haven’t come close to playing with the defensive execution that allowed a lesser-talented team to compete longer into the season and — more specifically — deeper within each game a year ago. This season, they’ve played so few games according to the designed plan that it’s fair to call those flukes.

These problems didn’t just pop up over the last two or three weeks, they’ve been evident and blatantly obvious all year long. So this isn’t an end-of the-season issue, it’s been an ALL SEASON issue. And when Peters as well as departed General Manager Ron Francis failed to address it, it became an end-of-the-season issue in that it effectively ended their season.

I’m not a “bring up the kids from Charlotte” guy. My understanding is that most of them, maybe all of them, are not ready for prime time. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t use the Checkers as more of a motivating tool for the players here who were SUPPOSED to be better than they were. Why not put Victor Rask and his perpetually anemic performances through waivers and then send him to the American Hockey League for a week or so? Sit Noah Hanifin the next night after his shocking turnover led to the unraveling of the team against the Caps in January. Use Justin Faulk as an example that even a captain gets a game off when things repeatedly go awry with his responsibilities.

No one is saying that those players are incapable of competing and succeeding at a high level. But if you allow your kids to get away with not doing their homework then it really falls on you every bit as much as it does on them.

To my untrained eye, there has been a lack of honesty within the entire group this year. A belief that they’d somehow pull it together and return to the structured way they performed a year ago, when poor goaltending and a lack of goal-scoring were the two reasons they failed to punch a playoff ticket. Too many conversations included phrases like, “if we outwork the other team we’re dangerous,” or, “when we play the way we’re supposed to,” or “we’re in good shape considering the schedule,” or “and we haven’t played our best hockey yet,” or blah blah blah blah blah.

Trades are hard to make. Other teams have to want what you’re willing to make available. You have to be ready to admit you might have made a mistake in player evaluation. Then the exchange must make sense in all areas. But one thing isn’t hard and that’s holding players accountable, and other than two nights when Rask was a de-facto member of the fourth estate and watched from the press box with us, there have been exactly zero instances of negative consequences for repeated mistakes.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “we just have to learn from it and move on,” I wouldn’t have to write these columns because I’d have long-since retired. It’s pretty clear that too many on this team are incapable of “learning from the mistakes” because they keep getting made.

And THAT is as much about the messaging as it is the players who aren’t receiving the message.

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