NEWARK, N.J. - Brent Sutter refused to talk about his future as the Devils' coach, instead calling New Jersey's last-minute loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the playoffs the most devastating he's experienced as a player or coach.
"I'm not trying to be disrespectful to anybody or anything. It's just that it's not something that I've given it much time at this point," Sutter said Thursday, after the Devils had their final meeting, took exit physicals and a team photograph.
Sutter has a year left on his contract, but there have been reports that he's homesick after two seasons in New Jersey and that he might want to return to his farm in western Canada.
"You guys have heard a bunch of stuff out there that are rumours, and I told you at that time and I'm saying it again: I evaluate myself at the end of the year and there's a process I go through to do that," he said.
"It takes time and I'm going to use time to my advantage."
Sutter said he has followed the same routine since becoming a coach in 1999.
"This is not a time to discuss that whatsoever," Sutter said. "To be quite honest, I'm still thinking about what transpired to us here less than 48 hours ago. There's a process you go through with that. Like I said, it's been the most difficult thing that's ever happened to me in my hockey career as a player or a coach."
Sutter still can't explain how the Devils lost Game 7. They led 3-2 with less than 90 seconds to play and the Hurricanes scored twice to win.
"I said to Lou this morning this was like a 100-yard dash for our first race," Sutter said, referring to Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. "I felt we got to the 99-yard mark and we fell down when we had the lead. There is no way to explain it."
Lamoriello balked about discussing Sutter's future.
"I really don't want to get into any of that here," he said. "You had a conversation with Brent. I don't think this is the time to get into anything that's personal."
Most Devils players seemed stunned when asked about Sutter coming back.
"Is there a question about him coming back?" captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "I don't know anything about that."
The Devils have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past two years. While they have won three Stanley Cups since 1995, they have not won since 2003 and have not made it past the conference semifinals since the Cup season.
"We definitely had the elements here," said centre John Madden, one of nine unrestricted free agents. "I would sum this up as a wasted opportunity. By that, we had a very good hockey club that was capable of winning the Cup."
Sutter refused to discuss possible player personnel changes.
"We're less than 48 hours away from, to me, the most devastating loss I've ever had as a coach or a player," he said. "I don't think it's a time to even go there with that. I think there is a process that you have to go through to ensure that everyone is in the right frame of mind and whatever decisions are made moving forward, you're not making them through emotion."
Besides Madden, the Devils' other unrestricted free agents are right wings Brian Gionta and Brendan Shanahan, centre Bobby Holik, left wing Mike Rupp, defencemen Johnny Oduya and Niclas Havelid and goaltenders Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes.
Center Travis Zajac and defenceman Andy Greene are restricted free agent, and Lamoriello plans to keep them.
While disappointed with the early exit, goaltender Martin Brodeur noted that the Devils have been the playoffs 12 straight years.
"We're on the right path," said Brodeur, who broke Patrick Roy's NHL record for career wins by a goaltender this season, a year in which he also missed 50 games following elbow surgery. "We keep bringing up guys and we'll be successful again."
Shanahan, the 40-year-old who joined the team in midseason, said he would wait before deciding to play another season.
"In the last couple of weeks I had my lip split open, my chin split open, I got stitches in my eyelid and I got hit so hard in Game 6 it actually knocked one of my false teeth out, and I loved every minute of it," he said. "I just expected it to go a lot longer."