He was second on the team in points in 2008-2009, barely losing the top honors to Eric Staal.
He's led the team through a miserable season so far this year, wearing the "A" as assistant captain even when Staal was injured or Rod Brind'Amour was benched, literally.
He leads the team with 16 goals and 23 assists in 49 games played and also has three game winners out of only 16 games the 'Canes have actually won.
And at 37 years old, not only does he have a scoring touch, but he's also leading by example and experience.
So doesn't the Carolina Hurricanes' Ray Whitney deserve more respect than the glaringly obvious title of "trade bait"?
It's true, Whitney has been near the center of almost every discussion revolving around which players seem most likely to be traded by the 'Canes. In such a struggling year, those talks are becoming more and more plentiful.
Of course, at 37 years old, any NHL player would be nearing the end of his career, and it's very likely that his team would be looking to get a final burst of return out of their declining career. But that's not the situation Ray Whitney is in.
Whitney may be 37, but his career is definitely not nearly declining; if anything, it's steadily improving. He's also become one of the offensive centerpieces of the team, and he's managed to take control of the offense in many instances.
Take, for example, last Sunday's game against a slumping Boston team. Sure, the 'Canes ended up winning unanimously 5-1, but it was Whitney's support that got them such a convincing victory in a non-convincing season against last year's top playoff seed in the conference.
Whitney got started by launching the Hurricanes into the lead less than eight minutes into regulation. He took advantage of a Boston defensive zone turnover, charging in and intercepting a pass less than 10 feet from the net. Whitney then managed to avoid a diving Tim Thomas and evaded a dangerously swinging Bruins stick to tap the puck into the net and get Carolina off and running.
Later in the game, with Carolina up 3-0 off two more goals from Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen, Whitney made one of the most impressive defense-to-offense transitions I've ever seen.
Seconds after killing off a Bruins power play, Whitney took a defensive zone pass from goaltender Cam Ward and charged up the left sideboards at top speed before swinging towards the center faceoff circle.
He pulled a few moves to buy some space and then completely undressed "The Enforcer" Zdeno Chara in a move that had the FSN South broadcasters going crazy. Whitney then backhanded a perfect pass to 20-year-old prospect Brandon Sutter, who lifted a perfect shot into the upper shelf of the net to chase former Vezina Trophy winner Thomas to the bench.
It was truly a play that cannot be described with nearly the magic in a standard prose article. You will just have to see it to believe it.
But it can be said that Whitney's unbelievable charge will not only be remembered as a bright spot in a dark, gloomy season for Carolina, but perhaps also as the gamebreaker that earned the 'Canes a scarce win.
However, it's not the only time that Whitney has shown brilliance in the toughest of situations. Look at any highlight of him on NHL.com, and you'll see what you expect from an annual 30-goal scorer. But what you won't be seeing—the defensive poke checks and the pure playmaker's assists—is what make Ray Whitney an essential to the Carolina Hurricanes.
From the time he was acquired in 2005 to add another dimension to their anticipated season (which ended in a Stanley Cup), Whitney has been a scorer, a defender, and most of all, a leader. He's scored 126 goals and 215 assists already in less than five seasons with Carolina, totaling 341 points in 383 games played.
Those stats are coming from a player whose clear strength is not on the score sheet, but as a captain. It's not something a journalist can explain, but there's just something about him that sparks the team.
There's also just something about him that shows Whitney deserves far more than a trade to end his career with Carolina. He probably won't end up there, but Whitney easily deserves the respect of a retired number hanging from the rafters of the RBC Center.
Most of all, though, Ray Whitney just deserves some respect. Because, like their advertising campaign clearly states, "...it's a Caniac thing".
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the Carolina Hurricanes. In his 17 months so far with the site, he has written over 150 articles and received over 100,000 total reads.
Visit his profile to read more.
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