‘You can’t pay everybody’: Instead of a Game 7, Hurricanes players turn gaze forward

Had things gone differently, the Carolina Hurricanes would have woken up Saturday morning in Manhattan and geared up for a Game 7 playoff showdown with the New York Rangers.

But things did not go differently.

The Rangers, not the Hurricanes, won Game 6 Thursday at PNC Arena to end the Stanley Cup second-round series and prevent a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. That left the Carolina players to go through sooner-than-expected exit interviews at PNC Arena.

There was much to talk about: pending unrestricted free agents, injuries, the salary cap, contracts, arbitration, who might be going, who might be re-signing and who might be going. That’s not how the Canes wanted to be spending their Saturday, talking about what-might-have-beens and what could be.

Among the pending UFA’s is defenseman Brett Pesce, who did not play after suffering an injury in Game 2 of the Canes’ first-round series with the New York Islanders. Pesce said Saturday that he sustained a fractured fibula near his left ankle, first blocking a shot in the game, then further hurting his leg on a noncontact play as he pivoted to skate up ice.

Surgery was not needed, but Pesce was left to be an antsy observer in the playoffs.

“I was trying to get back. I was close,” Pesce said of a return. “Obviously I wasn’t feeling the best. But I was hoping we would grind out the rest of this round and I could get back for the next series.”

Pesce said he is “hopeful” a contract agreement can be reached to keep him with a team that drafted him in 2013, saying, “I still feel we can get it done.” He also is hopeful his defensive partner, Brady Skjei, also can work it out to stay and not leave in free agency.

“We don’t want our story to end, for sure. We both want to be back, it’s pretty obvious,” Pesce said.

Among the forwards who will be UFAs are Teuvo Teravainen, a staple in the Carolina lineup the past eight seasons, and Jake Guentzel, a newcomer to the group after coming from the Pittsburgh Penguins in what was considered the most significant transaction of the NHL trade deadline.

Teravainen, always a pass-first, shoot-second kind of player, is coming off a season in which the Finnish winger had a career-high 25 goals. Guentzel, who won a Cup with the Pens, was brought in to add more experience and more scoring in the playoffs, finishing with four goals and nine points in the 11 playoff games.

Had Guentzel’s shot in the third period Thursday not gone off the post, off the stick of Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin, off Shesterkin’s arm and then fallen just wide of the net, there might have been a Game 7 and more hockey. But it was not to be.

Guentzel was a rare “rental” for the Hurricanes, a player acquired at the deadline despite his pending UFA status to help the team win and win now. He was an easy fit in the lineup, in the locker room.

“I loved my experience here. It’s a great place to play,” Guentzel said.

As for a new contract, he said, “We’ll see what happens.”

Canes president and general manager Don Waddell, with the approval of team owner Tom Dundon, will decide what happens with the roster and contracts and negotiations and fitting everything under the cap. There are restricted free agents such as forwards Martin Necas and Jack Drury who are eligible for salary arbitration, adding another wrinkle to the offseason conundrum.

There also is the matter of another “free agent” — head coach Rod Brind’Amour. He needs a new contract. That should get done, but at what cost?

Brind’Amour has coached six years and the Canes, after missing the playoffs for nine seasons, have qualified for postseason play each of his six years. They have won at least one playoff series each year but second-round wins have been the high points.

“We’re right there. We’re right there year after year,” defenseman Jaccob Slavin said Saturday. “But you never get over that hump and that’s frustrating.

“You look at the team we had and it’s just this was definitely the year if we were going to do it, it would be this year. So from that aspect it’s frustrating.”

It won’t be the same group next season making another attempt to get over that “hump.” It never is. Changes are coming.

“It’s never fun to have that happen,” Slavin said “Best-case scenario, you bring ‘em all back, but obviously, I think, most of those guys all deserve to make more money. They’ve all played really well in their time here. I hope we can bring them all back because they’re all good character guys and good friends.

“It’s never a fun part of the business. … They all want to be back here, right? You can’t pay everybody, especially with how much guys deserve to be paid. So it will be a busy summer for the team.”