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2014-05-29 at 16:52

Confident optimism

By Leith Dunick,
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THUNDER BAY -- Jordan Staal thinks the Carolina Hurricanes are closer to the playoffs than people think.

Though the NHL team is eight years removed from its one and only Stanley Cup championship, and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, Staal said calls in some circles to shake up the Hurricanes might be a little premature.

In the days following the end of the NHL regular season, several pundits suggested it might be wise for Carolina to start looking at trading some of their stars and start to rebuild, most notably often-injured goalie Cam Ward and Jordan’s older brother Eric, the Hurricanes captain.

Not so fast, the younger Staal said.

“I still believe in our team. I believe in the players we have. There’s definitely some tweaks to be made, but there’s potential there. You can tell,” Staal said Thursday.

“We still have a very young team. I’m one of the older guys and I’m still fairly young. There’s a lot of young players on that team and they’re still going to grow and get better and we’ll go from there.”

The franchise already began a shake-up of sorts, firing coach Kirk Muller and allowing long-time general manager Jim Rutherford to step aside in favour of hall-of-famer Ron Francis.

Staal is just as curious to know who will be guiding the team behind the bench as any other fan. Ulf Samuelsson, the guy everyone liked to hate during his playing days – unless, of course, he was a teammate, is the at the top of the rumour mill.

Whoever the new coach turns out to be, it’s an exciting time to be a Hurricane, Staal said.

“Obviously it’s been disappointing the last few seasons. It wasn’t just on the coach. But sometimes something’s got to give and as you’ve seen before, usually it’s the coach,” he said.
“It’s tough to see him go, but at the same time we’re excited about the future and hopefully we’ll get a good coach coming in and leading our team into the playoffs.”

Staal, sporting an offseason beard, just completed his eight NHL season, scoring 15 goals and adding 25 points in 82 games for a team that finished with a decent 36-35-11 record that left them seventh in the eight-team Atlantic Division.

It wasn’t the finish he or Eric was hoping for.

“There were a lot of ups and downs. There were a lot of times where we felt like we were cruising on into the playoffs, in January and stuff like that,” Staal said. “Then we had some hard downs and we just didn’t find our consistency throughout the season. Our consistency just wasn’t there every night.”

After posting a 10-4-0 record in January, the winter blahs hit after the Olympic break, the team losing six of seven to see its playoff chances shrivel.

“There were times when we weren’t very good at all,” he said. “It was just finding the consistency in our game and we just couldn’t get a handle on that.”

These playoffs Staal will live vicariously through his other older brother, Marc, who’s New York Rangers are a win away from a Stanley Cup final appearance.

He plans to watch Game 6 Tuesday night, when the Rangers try to dispose of the Montreal Canadiens once and for all.

“These last two years, with the concussion and the eye (injury), just to see him come back this year and play well, and then just really drive it in the playoffs, it really gives me chills talking about it. It’s really exciting to see him out there.”

No doubt some of those feelings of brotherly love will disappear next season when the Rangers and Hurricanes battle it out.

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