Eastern Conference offseason plans 

April, 13, 2011
04/13/11
9:57
AM ET

The Stanley Cup playoffs get under way tonight. Can I get an "Amen," somebody? Without a doubt, the first round of the Cup chase is my favorite time on the hockey calendar. So many games, so much clicking! Let the games begin.

However, over the next two days in this space, I wanted to take a quick look at the 14 teams that didn't earn a ticket to the dance. Today, I'll focus on the seven non-playoff teams from the Eastern Conference. On Thursday, I'll turn my attention to those unfortunates in the West. They can all hope there will be better days ahead.

EAST | WEST

Carolina Hurricanes

What went wrong?
Simply put, they couldn't beat Southeast Division rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice in the 82nd game of the season. The Hurricanes had overcome a 1-4-1 mid-March slide to gain control of their own destiny on the final weekend of the season, but they failed to lock down a playoff spot.

After the All-Star break, Paul Maurice's team really struggled in the second half of back-to-back situations, going 2-7-1 in back-end games. The season-crushing loss to the Bolts came in just such a circumstance.

What's next?
The big picture is rosy. Young vets like Eric Staal and Cam Ward are franchise anchors, and kid forwards Jeff Skinner and Brandon Sutter figure to be big pieces of the club's future.

In the short term, GM Jim Rutherford has some serious decisions to make concerning some potential free agents. Top defender Joni Pitkanen as well as forwards Jussi Jokinen, Erik Cole, Chad LaRose and Cory Stillman can test the open market if not re-signed by July 1. Rutherford's first priority will be Pitkanen, who won't be easy to replace.


To read the rest of E.J. Hradek's rebuilding plans for Eastern Conference teams, become an ESPN Insider today.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.

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