BT's 2008/09 NHL Season Preview: The Carolina Hurricanes
Preface: Alright...I get it. I messed up in regards to the Thrashers.
After openly, and unfairly ripping them over things mistook in my own research, I think I bashed them way too much, and I went a little overboard. I also missed out on three players that moved themselves to Europe, and Slava Kozlov (Although I didn't want to bring attention to the fact that he was a waste of money last season).
Hear me Atlanta? I'm sorry. We all make mistakes, and I won't do it again...here's hoping the Thrash are more competitive than I ridiculously predicted.
Just don't hate me like the city of Baltimore.
Hopefully, we're back on track. With the ugliness of Atlanta (the situation at least) behind us, and Tampa Bay's random assortment of forwards still trying to find living accommodations in South Florida, we break away from Florida (mostly because I haven't gotten to the Panthers yet) and today, we're going to be looking at the Carolina Hurricanes—you know, the team that crashed last season, or at least succumbed to a hot-headed Washington team?
Despite some minor tinkerings over the offseason, the 'Canes look to be as close to the Capitals as anyone in the division is. The only thing standing in Carolina's way is whether or not Washington gels like they did last year or not.
If the Caps struggle, the division is the 'Canes for the taking.
Roster Additions: Darcy Hordichuk-F (Trade), Joni Pitkanen-D (Trade), Josef Melichar-D (F.A.)
Roster Subtractions: Erik Cole-F (Trade), David Tanabe-D (F.A), Bret Hedican-D (F.A.), Wade Brookbank-F (F.A.), Glen Wesley-D (Retirement), Trevor Letowski-F (Europe)
How did 2007/08 go? 43-33-6, 92 points, ninth in conference, second in Southeast division
2008/09 Goal: First in division
Let's break'er down...
The Carolina Hurricanes surprised everyone in 2006 by winning the Stanley Cup. That and they crushed the hopes and dreams of everyone in Edmonton, and I guess you could say that by beating the Oilers, they played a part in Prongers' deal to Anaheim.
So to be honest, I was caught completely off-guard by the Erik Cole deal—I had heard rumblings of moves coming out of Raleigh, but Erik was one of the last people I expected to see moved.
And then they invited Jeff O'Neill to training camp, and I wasn't sure what to think...
Don't expect Michael Leighton to be weight'in Cam Ward down...
At this point in his career, Cam Ward is what Carey Price wants to be.
Although the 20 year-old Canadiens' goalie is highly touted and expected to rise to the upper echelon of goalies in the NHL fairly soon, Ward has accomplished a few feats early in his career, that Price may look to as inspiration for his young career.
For one, Ward already has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe trophy to his credit—both of which were achieved two seasons ago in '05/06. More recently though, Ward is coming off of back-to-back 30 win seasons, including a career-high 37 last season, despite Carolina finishing out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.
Although Ward sports a fairly high goals-against average for a starting goalie (2.75 last season and 2.94 the year before) and a save percentage hovering around .900 (both statistics probably keep him out of the "top goalies" conversations), Ward wins games, which at the end of the day is what gets you to the playoffs, not those other statistics.
After a few seasons of bouncing around the NHL, Michael Leighton seems to have found himself a home as Cam Ward's backup in Carolina—at least for the next two years—and so long as he can perform admirably in 10-15 games the goalie tandem in Raleigh should be fine.
Brind'amour beer to the Staal's bachelor party!
Alright, I'll admit, that was terrible. With a last name featuring "amour", I could have made a joke about how the ladies "love Rod's bod" (Remember, he's 'Rod the Bod' Brind'amour), or "I'm feeling some 'Amour' for Rod's faceoff game", but I didn't, so deal with it.
Down the middle though, the Hurricanes are set. Brindy is the perfect veteran compliment to this team, as he brings a Gary Roberts-esque worth ethic with him to practice, games, and off-ice workouts. The only problem, is how Rod recovers from a torn ACL suffered late last season.
For being 38, Rod's 51 points in 59 games were great, and the fact he's been able to produce at a 70-80 point level for the past few seasons has been inspiring. However, whether this is the year that Rod's age catches up to him because of his knee or not remains to be seen; but for his sake, I hope Rod rebounds. If not? Well he's still one of the toughest S.O.B's to lace up a pair in the modern era.
But even before Brindy hits the ice this season, the 'Canes already have one of their most lethal weapons ready to go.
Think about this: Eric Staal is twenty-three and he's already had three-straight 70 point seasons (70 points in 2005/06, bookended by a 100 and an 82 point season), he's missed one game in his NHL career, has a Stanley Cup to his credit along with a point-per-game average in the playoffs (28 points in 25 games), and has been named an All-Star twice.
Needless to say, I wish there was a Maple Leaf who had two-thirds of Staal's talent or success. Then again there's fans of teams without players named Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Toews, or Kane that wish they had this guy. And even then I'm sure the Washington's and Pittsburgh's wouldn't complain about adding him to the roster.
The depth down the middle is a little questionable for the 'Canes, as Matt Cullen is the only other established NHL veteran, but his best years seem to come in a 'Canes uniform—just ask Rangers' fans—so Carolina will probably get a little bit of production out of Cullen.
Meanwhile, if any of Brandon Sutter, Drayson Bowman, Brandon Nolan, or Joe Jensen can bring a third and fourth line two-way presence with some added scoring touch, then the 'Canes will be fine.
Down the wings, the 'Canes will have a bit more scoring depth. It's fair to say that Sergei Samsonov surprised the world (Probably including the Hurricanes as well) by actually producing last year. In the 38 games after his trade from Chicago, Samsonov provided the 'Canes with 32 points, including 14 goals. Hoping to capitalize on Samsonov's resurgence, the 'Canes quickly inked Samsonov for the next three seasons, so here's hoping he doesn't disappoint once again.
Justin Williams meanwhile, is in the same boat as 'Rod the Bod' as he'll be recovering from a torn ACL as well. If he can come back and be the 30-goal, 60-70 point player he once was, then the 'Canes should be set. If not...well...how do you say "buyout" come June?
Both Patrick Eaves and Tuomo Ruutu came from situations in Ottawa and Chicago where their highly-touted offensive skills didn't flourish, and the teams' respective impatience was at a high. If the Hurricanes can somehow get 40 or more points out of both or either of them, then—like the Sergei Samsonov project—the 'Canes can claim success on two more reclamation projects (It also may help that Ruutu had 11 points in 17 games for Carolina while Eaves had 5 points in 11 games before shoulder surgery).
Other than that, Scott Walker will be providing some grit and a scoring presence along with Ryan Bayda, while Chad LaRose and Wade Brookbank can handle the rough stuff.
We've got a great big corvo truckin' through the night....I mean Conboy....I mean Convoy...
If you were going to say something about the Carolina Hurricanes defense, then it might be that they're fairly large. Of the nine options for defense listed on the roster, none of them are under 6'0, while Frantisek Kaberle is the lightest of the buch, being the only one to weigh in under 200 lbs (190).
Starting with the other Kaberle brother, Frantisek had a fairly productive year following a 2006/07 season cut short by shoulder surgery. Kaberle posted 22 assists in 80 games, and if he can get back to his average of 3.5 goals per season, then his point production will be pretty close to his average for his career (Based on his age and track record, Kaberle's 44-point 2005/06 season is starting to look like an enigma).
Joe Corvo and Nik Wallin are the other two elder statesmen on this roster, as both ring in on the older side of 30. Corvo really started to find his stroke last season, posting a 47-point season split between Ottawa and Carolina, but even a slight fall-off from that (somewhere in the 40-point vacinity) would fit the 'Canes system perfectly, while Wallin has to pick up his defensive responsibilities this season (He was a minus-18 last season), because a 33-year old defenseman who barely scores and can't play defense? I don't think anyone can make use of that in today's NHL, and those 18 minutes could be placed elsewhere.
With the recent retirment of Glenn Wesley though, all three of these 'greybeards' will have to step it up in the leadership department aswell, and help the kids along.
Offensively, both Dennis Seidenberg and Joni Pitkanen need to up their game. After a great year in Philly in 2006/07, Edmonton had high hopes that Pitkanen would post his fourth-straight 40 point season. It wasn't to be however, as a disappointing 26-point and injury-plagued season later, the offensive-minded Pitkanen was turned into Erik Cole. Back in the East though, Pitkanen could easily overcome last year's problems to consistently put puck to mesh (and tape) once again.
Seidenberg will be expected to eclipse the 20-point barrier, or even inch towards 30 given his success last year (15 assists in 47 games), and there's no doubt that he can, so long as he stays healthy this season.
Josef Melichar was added over the course of the offseason to help Carolina shore up their play in their own end, following a season spent over in Europe playing for the Swedish and Czech Elite leagues. Joining him on the return flight to North America will be Anton Babchuk, another defenseman who owns all the right tools to be a strong defensive presence, but just doesn't utilize them—mainly his size.
Then we have the Tims: Conboy and Gleason. Gleason is a chippy young defenseman, who the 'Canes have some stake in, as he was part of the return in the Jack Johnson deal last season. If Gleason can tap into some of his OHL offensive numbers (between 30-50 points a season) and start to play defensively-responsible hockey, then the 'Canes have a dual threat. Conboy won't be paid to put up big offensive numbers, but if he can prove that he has the ability to keep up with the larger power forwards at the NHL level, then the 'Canes should be set with a lot of variety on the blueline.
So what does it all mean?
The Carolina Hurricanes will be fine this season, mostly thanks to the fact that they can get years out of players that no one thought possible.
Sergei Samsonov? Fixed. Tuomo Ruutu? He's getting there. Jeff O'Neill? I wouldn't be surprised to see him score 20 goals now.
The Hurricanes just fix players.
If they can still tap into that miracle water throughout the season, then they'll be fine—they'll be even better if Washington struggles—and with the ever-solid 'tending of Cam Ward, the 'Canes should be set for a long string of division battles with the Caps for years to come.
2nd in the Division
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report, and an NHL Community Leader. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile, and you can read more of his previous work in his archives.
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