Each year the Hurricanes do something to surprise, and this year looks to be no different.
2008/09 Record: 45-30-7, 97 points, 6th in East, Swept in Eastern Conference Final by Pittsburgh
Additions: Andrew Alberts—D (2 years/FA), Tom Kostopoulos—F (3 years/FA), Aaron Ward—D (Trade w/Boston), Jay Harrison—D (1 year/FA), Stephane Yelle—F (FA)
Subtractions: Patrick Eaves—C (Trade w/Boston), Frantisek Kaberle—D (FA/Buyout), Dennis Seidenberg—D (FA)
The Carolina Hurricanes surprised a lot of people last year by going deep into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Not only did they have to overcome the legendary Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, but the “Cardiac ‘Canes” also overcame the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins on their way to a Conference finals appearance.
The ‘Canes did it on the strength of guts, last-second wins and big-time contributions from players not really known for those kind of gifts, but in the playoffs that’s how you win.
The fans in Carolina are hoping that those gifts didn’t fall by the wayside over the summer.
Ward-ing off the doubters…
Cam Ward is the best goalie in the NHL that nobody talks about. Ward posted a career-high 39 wins last season after putting up 37 a year before, while allowing the fourth-fewest goals against of goalies in the top ten of shots faced.
What’s even better is that he saves his best for last, as he continually gives fans the performances they crave in the playoffs.
While Ward seems to be good for 35-38 wins per season right now (40+ is not out of the question), the Hurricanes know that Ward won’t be able to do it on his own.
While Michael Leighton won’t be required to shoulder much of the load for Carolina (of course barring injury), he’s an ideal candidate to play 13-15 games per season in place of Ward. Since coming to Carolina, Leighton has really rediscovered himself after some very troublesome (and very brief) stints in Columbus and Philadelphia.
Although not world-beating numbers, Leighton will bring the ‘Canes a consistent, steady effort every night, having only allowed four goals or more in four of 19 games last season (and two of those times were against Pittsburgh and Washington, offenses which any goalie would have trouble with).
With a quiet, yet confident starter and a backup who can step in and shine from time-to-time (Leighton also stopped the Capitals 38 times and the Sharks 37 times in winning efforts last year), there are no questions between the Hurricanes pipes.
There ain’t no Staal-in' on this ride…
Speaking of underrated and overlooked, Eric Staal posted his second career 40 goal season last year, after posting 38 in 2007/08. Along with that, Staal was again the forward of note on the ‘Canes, leading the team with 14 goals on the man advantage, and ranking amongst the league leaders in game-winning goals with eight.
Rod Brind’Amor will be back for his 10th season with the Carolina Hurricanes and looking to re-establish himself as one of the best defensive forwards in the game after a career-low -23 last season.
Rod “The Bod” played in 80 games last year after coming back from a torn ACL late in the 2007/08 season so there should be no doubts about the longevity of a man with two-straight 51 point seasons and one of the strictest workout regimes in the NHL.
In a case of “getting better with age,” Ray Whitney led Carolina with 77 points last year, and just eight games away from 1000 for his career, he looks to have no intention of slowing down in hopes of his fourth-straight 20 goal campaign.
The most interesting thing about the Carolina Hurricanes however, is that they’re the pound of the NHL. Unwanted bodies such as Tuomo Ruutu, Sergei Samsonov and Jussi Jokinen have been shipped in over the past few seasons and the moves have been met with snickers from around the league.
But during that time the ‘Canes have gotten the only signs of life from Samsonov in years, and he could be primed for his first 50-point campaign since 2001/02. Ruutu became the second-leading goal scorer on this team with 26 last year, and while Jokinen was no world beater, his 11 points in 25 games may be what he needs to revitalize his career as silly as that may sound.
I swear it’s something in the water.
How else do you explain why Matt Cullen’s only two 20-goal seasons (and two career-high 49-point seasons), and Erik Cole’s 15 points in 17 games happened in Carolina, when they’ve struggled in other markets in recent years?
It’ll be interesting to see if the gritty Chad LaRose can replicate last year’s career season, but if not he’ll offer plenty of sandpaper alongside Scott Walker, while Tom Kostopoulos brings some grit as well.
While the ‘Canes are chock-full of veterans and reclamation projects, they do have some youth of their own: Brandon Sutter had a bit of a rough first year in the NHL (especially after that hit by Doug Weight), so he still has a ways to go before establishing himself at the NHL level.
Zach Boychuk is another player that has Carolina management and fans excited, while Drayson Bowman will receive some much-needed seasoning in the AHL with Albany this year.
Amendment: The addition of Stephane Yelle was made after the publishing of this article. Yelle is a personal favorite of mine with a great attitude, a ton of experience and is one of the best checking-line centers in the leauge. While Yelle's contributions usually go unnnoticed to the public, 'Canes fans will love this guy.
A few new Gleaming additions to an already solid Corvo…
On the powerplay, Carolina’s two biggest threats return in Joe Corvo and Joni Pitkanen.
Despite a slow start from Corvo, he rebounded to lead the Carolina defense corps in points with 38—one of four 30+ point defensemen for Paul Maurice and company.
The loss of Dennis Seidenberg’s 30 points may sting for a little, but overall the ‘Canes have gotten better defensively.
In re-acquiring Aaron Ward the ‘Canes gain a solid defensive defenseman who is going to help out in front of Cam Ward on the penalty kill, while Andrew Alberts brings a big, strong low-pairing presence to the ‘Canes.
If Tim Gleason is allowed to shoot the puck more (his 61 shots last year were his lowest total in four seasons), he’ll tack on a few extra goals and offer up a bit more offense, and Nic Wallin will continue to play a smart game from the backend.
Getting back to the powerplay, Pitkanen should be good for at least 35 points as he looks to get back to the 40-point plateau he reached in Philadelphia.
The biggest need falls to whomever is expected to replace Anton Babchuk’s 16 goals from last year, but a youngster such as Bryan Rodney could surprise if given the opportunity.
So what does it all mean...
Right now, the Carolina Hurricanes will be hard pressed to consistently compete with the likes of the Washington Capitals offensively. However, they do have their share of dangerous forwards, a goalie that’s carried them to a championship before and a defense that, while not overpowering, can put up points if the replacements can do their job (Their top four defensemen point-wise were only outscored by seven other top fours last season).
Looking past the obvious scoring factors up front, the Hurricanes have the advantage in net and if the new faces on the blueline can step up and replace the production, their blueline is solid.
Although many aren't expecting them to, the Hurricanes relish the role of the Dark Horse and they'll be hungry to give the Capitals a run for their money.
2nd in Southeast
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives.