There's no doubt in the minds of any Carolina Hurricanes fan that the first two months of this 2009-2010 NHL season have been among the worst stretches in 'Canes history since moving to North Carolina from Hartford.
At 5-16-5, the Canes have already tied the franchise record for most consecutive losses (14), are starting yet another losing streak this week (0-4), are last in the league in goals scored, have been nailed by injuries, and are also among the lowest in most other categories.
But why are they so bad? That's fairly hard to figure out, considering this was a team that went on a 19-7 run to end the 08-09 season as the sixth seed, and then won two road game sevens to advance all the way to the Eastern Conference finals.
It was a fairly quiet but confident summer for Carolina, who went into October feeling ready for another breakthrough year.
As you can see, it was definitely breakthrough. Just not in a good way.
So, what was the problem? What changed the 'Canes from a top-10 NHL team into perhaps the worst in the entire league this season?
Here are five reasons that could identify just what made the difference and turned the Hurricanes completely in the wrong direction.
Not Re-Signing Free Agent Defensemen Babchuk and Seidenburg
Possibly the most problematic move the Hurricanes made in free agency was allowing defensemen Anton Babchuk and Dennis Seidenburg leave to free agency.
Babchuk, who lead the NHL in powerplay goals by a defenseman last year with 16 tallies, is now back playing in Russia. Coincidentally, the Hurricanes powerplay is 29th in the league this season.
Dennis Seidenburg was a more conservative defenseman for the 'Canes, and despite only hitting the back of the net twice, he provided hard hits and defensive support down low on the penalty kill. His signing with the Florida Panthers has sent the penalty killing unit spiraling downwards after finishing as a top-10 unit last season.
Spending Valuable Salary on Non-Productive Additions
For the first time in over five years, the Hurricanes are in a salary cap crunch. With a mass of injuries swarming upon them, the call-ups from Albany have really sent the Hurricanes management reeling in terms of financial situations.
However, the large-contract, big-name signings over the offseason for players that have not paid off may be the overlooked factor for this crunch.
Veteran signees Tom Kostopoulus (Montreal) and Stephane Yelle (Boston) have both played in all of the Hurricanes games this season. However, in 52 combined games, the pair have combined for a not-so-whopping four goals and two assists.
Aaron Ward and Andrew Alberts were also new additions on defense, and have combined for a -21 rating. Neither have scored as yet.
The salary cap hit of just these four players exceeds an incredible five million dollars, with Aaron Ward alone accounting for nearly half.
Oblivious To Injury Threats, Canes' Management Ignores Backups
It was just waiting to happen.
After a fairly good year in terms of getting by without many serious injuries, the Hurricanes had completely forgotten about what to do with their struggling AHL team, the Albany River Rats, as well as the extra-dressed players.
Now, this season, with 51 combined games missed already because of injury, the Hurricanes have been forced to dress players they didn't want starting and, at times, go without a full fourth line.
Players like Tim Conboy and Jay Harrison have seen much more time than expected, but have used up valuable playing spots to total for three points, a -9 rating, and a complete lack of playmaking or defensive skill.
Also, young players such as Zach Boychuk, Patrick Dwyer, and Bryan Rodney have missed important minor-league training time to come up and fill in spots on the Hurricanes roster.
One Word: Overconfidence
It's been there all along.
Throughout the month of September leading up to the first game of the season, all the Hurricanes news outlets (particularly the News & Observer of Raleigh) were coming out with snippets such as:
"Despite not creating much of a stir over the summer, the Hurricanes squad is feeling quietly confident heading into Friday's season opener against Philadelphia."
It was not advertised as overconfidence then, of course, but it sure looks like that's what it might have been now.
The Hurricanes went into the year feeling good about themselves. That's certainly not something to feel bad about, but it does seem they might just have begun thinking beyond the regular season to the playoffs already. They forgot there was still six months and 72 games to go until the postseason.
And now, it's the same thought for a different reason. The Hurricanes probably still do want the 54 regular season games remaining to pass by as quickly as possible, but it's just so they can get out of this horrible year and back onto the warm, lush golf courses of May and June.