|3rd in Southeast Division|
|11th in Eastern Conf.|
|GM: Jim Rutherford|
|COACH: Paul Maurice|
|$52,609,000 ($8.2M below cap)|
When the Hurricanes make the playoffs, all bets are off. In 2002 the team won the Southeast Division with just 91 points, fewer than all but one of the other eight Eastern Conference playoff participants, and promptly ran the table all the way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup final (either in Carolina or its predecessor city, Hartford) before losing to Detroit. Four years later, coming out of the lockout, a steely group led by Ray Whitney and Rod Brind’Amour and backstopped by rookie Cam Ward prevailed over Edmonton in seven games to take the Stanley Cup. Even just the season before last, they won series against the Devils and Bruins before losing to eventual champions Pittsburgh.
The problem is that Carolina all too frequently misses the playoffs altogether. During the team’s dozen years south of the Mason-Dixon Line they have missed the playoffs more years than they’ve reached them. Going back to the 2002 run, they missed the playoffs each of the next two years before the lockout. Coming back for 2005-06, they took the Stanley Cup in a largely come-out-of-nowhere performance that few expected. They followed it up by, once again, failing to reach the postseason each of the next two years, missing the chance to even compete to defend their title.
If convention holds, we’re bound for another big Hurricanes run through the playoffs… next year. While this team has all the talent it could possibly need to compete in the Southeast, several losses at key positions could hurt the chemistry of this roster before they find their footing. But with Ward still manning the pipes, Carolina will at least have a chance in every game they play. History is a hard thing to shake, but if they can break their every-third-year jinx and reach the postseason, watch out…
|21||F||Drayson Bowman||6′ 1″||190||21|
|26||F||Erik Cole||6′ 2″||205||31|
|22||F||Zac Dalpe||6′ 1″||195||20|
|39||F||Patrick Dwyer||5′ 11″||175||27|
|36||F||Jussi Jokinen||5′ 11″||198||27|
|29||F||Tom Kostopoulos||6′ 0″||200||31|
|59||F||Chad LaRose||5′ 10″||181||28|
|8||F||Patrick O’Sullivan||5′ 11″||190||25|
|15||F||Tuomo Ruutu||6′ 0″||205||27|
|14||F||Sergei Samsonov||5′ 8″||188||31|
|53||F||Jeff Skinner||5′ 10″||193||18|
|12||F||Eric Staal||6′ 4″||205||25|
|16||F||Brandon Sutter||6′ 3″||183||21|
|19||F||Jiri Tlusty||6′ 0″||209||22|
|33||D||Anton Babchuk||6′ 5″||212||26|
|77||D||Joe Corvo||6′ 0″||204||33|
|6||D||Tim Gleason||6′ 0″||217||27|
|44||D||Jay Harrison||6′ 4″||211||27|
|4||D||Jamie McBain||6′ 2″||200||22|
|25||D||Joni Pitkanen||6′ 3″||210||27|
|60||G||Justin Peters||6′ 1″||205||24|
|30||G||Cam Ward||6′ 1″||185||26|
MOST IMPORTANT COG IN 2010: Eric Staal (top line C) — Staal is now the man in Carolina, donning the C this season to replace a retiring legend in Hurricanes history. Just as Rod Brind’Amour had to take over for Ron Francis, so too was it Staal’s time to lead the team onward. How will he respond? He’s settled into a consistent 70-80 point range each of the last four seasons; what Maurice would love to get out of his newly-christened captain is a 100-point season like he put up in the Cup season of 2005-06. It all depends on the help he gets off the wings, and whether he can elevate his teammates’ play to match his own potential.
KEY ACQUISITION: Joe Corvo (D – FA from Washington) — There’s nothing quite like getting an upgrade for your defense while poaching from a division rival’s pocket. Corvo, who was with the Hurricanes since the 2008 trade deadline when he came over from Ottawa, was sent to Washington for their playoff drive last year and is thus returning home in a way. He will be teaming up with Joni Pitkanen to lock down opponents’ top lines in front of Cam Ward. He provides a strong link from the defense forward with his passing ability, and when called upon to do so can crank off a shot. But locking down is his primary role, and a veteran like Corvo is just what a blueline full of 27-year-olds needed.
KEY DEPARTURE: Rod Brind’Amour (C – retirement) and Ray Whitney (LW – FA to Phoenix) — Brind’Amour was the emotional leader of this team, having taken over the captaincy after Ron Francis’ retirement and led the team to a Stanley Cup. He had also been there for the team’s first Cup drive, damn near an original Hurricane after being dealt to the team by Philadelphia in 2000. Staal now becomes just the third captain Carolina fans have ever known. But who will step up to play the Whitney to his Brind’Amour? Whitney, who joined the team upon the return from the lockout and was instrumental in their Cup drive, likewise is gone after signing with Phoenix in the offseason. The team gets a major injection of youth up front, and it will be up to guys like Staal, Sergei Samsonov and Erik Cole to step into the void left by their departure.
KEY YOUNGSTER: Jeff Skinner (RW/18 years old) — Jeff Skinner, welcome to the NHL! The 7th overall pick in the draft this summer, Skinner is projected to take an immediate spot off the wing of fellow youngster Brandon Sutter at the pivot. He was the leading goalscorer amongst OHL forwards headed to the draft, potting 50 of them last year in a breakout season few were anticipating. While the Central Scouting Service didn’t rate the guy highly (47th-best North American skater in 2009-10 by their ratings), the rest of the NHL was just hoping he’d drop their way. Jim Rutherford scooped him up his first chance, getting a small but speedy forward who could really elevate either Staal or third-year center Brandon Sutter.
OUTLOOK: So, can they do it… can they reach the playoffs yet again after just one year’s absence? It will honestly take a lot to stay apace in the rapidly improving Southeast. Carolina needs to see big dividends immediately from first-round draft pick Skinner, and they need Brandon Sutter to be the next guy to develop as the top-tier center in the Francis/Brind’Amour/Staal mold. After all, someone is going to have to succeed Erik some year down the road, and they will want their fourth man ready for the job.
But can those two replace the contributions put forth by the departed Brind’Amour and Whitney? And is merely returning Corvo to the roster and hoping Cam Ward holds up with an untested backup really the way to repair a defense that allowed the fifth-most goals per game in the NHL last season? Another year of seasoning counts for only so much, but a lot is dependent on quantum leaps. With their goalie situation settled with a Conn Smythe winner giving them confidence, they can focus on pushing forward more.
Things won’t be easy for the Hurricanes, but in the Southeast they should be able to maintain their third-place standing from last year. They should also be able to pick up a few more wins here and there, enough to get them into the postseason this time around as the last team in. But a long playoff run is probably not in their near future — here’s guessing that they have one more year of progression in them before they finally reach that deep postseason drive that’s surely in them in their next tri-year cycle culminating in the spring of 2012…
- 39 wins
- 88 points
- 3rd in Southeast/8th in Eastern Conference