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Five pressing questions for the Hurricanes looking to next season

Chip Alexander, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) on

Published in Hockey

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's safe to say the Carolina Hurricanes overachieved this past season, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and reaching the Eastern Conference finals. There was a lot to like.

But what about next year? Here are five pressing questions heading into the offseason:

-- Does the captain return?

The way Justin Williams lingered in the Canes' locker room Thursday after a final loss to the Boston Bruins, his pads still on, his kids by his side and a tear or two in his eyes, one had to wonder if that might be his last game.

A lot was asked of Williams this season in terms of leadership and production and he delivered. At 37, he had 23 goals and 30 assists, played all 82 games and was a steadying presence in the locker room and on the ice.

Williams' two-year contract had a cap hit of $4.5 million, which turned out to be a very good investment by the Canes. A one-year contract, at roughly the same price, would give Williams the option to play another season and then see where he stands.

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"I know how much he's put into this and I know there's only so much gas in the tank," Canes coach Rod Brind'Amour recently said. "I'm going to make sure he takes a couple of months before he makes a decision."

-- How much will Aho be paid?

The Finnish center -- and he was a center this season -- is the Canes' most dynamic forward and a face-of-the-franchise kind of player. He had a career high 30 goals and 53 assists this season, did not miss a game, and was selected for the NHL All-Star Game.

Canes general manager Don Waddell said in late October that a new long-term contract could be signed before the season ended, noting the two sides were not wide apart on term and price ("There's not a crazy difference," he said.) Waddell later said both sides had agreed to wait until after the season to finish negotiations, allowing Aho to focus only on hockey.

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