Hurricanes: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Scott Burnside
It's easy to forget the Carolina Hurricanes were a Game 82 win away from qualifying for the playoffs in April. Instead, they were blown out 6-2 by Tampa Bay at home and missed the playoffs for the second straight postseason.
Logic suggests that the Hurricanes, one of the best-managed teams on the circuit, should be back in the tournament this spring given the enviable collection of young talent and solid leadership provided by captain Eric Staal and netminder Cam Ward. Of course, logic doesn't always come into play when it comes to these things, but this team is poised to return to the playoffs.
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Atlantic: NJD | NYI | NYR | PHI | PIT
NE: BOS | BUF | MTL | OTT | TOR
SE: CAR | FLA | TMB | WAS | WPG
Central: CHI | CMB | DET | NSH | STL
NW: CGY | COL | EDM | MIN | VAN
Pacific: ANA | DAL | LAK | PHX | SAN
1. Spare parts?
Because the Hurricanes will never be a cap team, you'll never see GM Jim Rutherford wading into a bidding war over the big names that crop up on July 1. But that doesn't mean Rutherford doesn't shop, and he came up with a couple of interesting players who could pay big dividends at a bargain price.
Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart give Carolina much-needed size on the wings, and both have 20-goal potential even if they have underachieved during their most recent NHL stops. During camp, Ponikarovsky has played some with Staal, which would be as good a place as any to find out whether he's still got game. If Stewart can maintain his conditioning, he may not experience the drop-offs in play that marked his efforts earlier in his career.
2. Rutherford is sticking around
Rutherford's contract was extended for four more years during camp. That's no surprise given the long history that Rutherford shares with owner Peter Karmanos dating back to junior days in Windsor shortly after Rutherford retired from the game. But Carolina's consistency at the top is crucial to the Hurricanes' continued growth. Rutherford has proved himself time and again to be among the shrewdest of hockey men. His teams won't spend to the cap and won't be in on free-agent spending frenzies, but Rutherford and his staff draft and develop with the best of them.
3. Balanced attack
The outward perception of the Canes is they are a team that plays solid defense but lacks on offense. Not necessarily true. The squad finished a respectable 12th in goals per game last season. Now, Erik Cole and his 26 goals are gone. (He signed with Montreal in the offseason.) Will defending rookie of the year Jeff Skinner hit the 30-goal plateau again?
But between Stewart and Ponikarovsky, there should be an infusion of production, and Brandon Sutter is also due for a jump after registering just 14 goals last season. Still, getting production from up and down the lineup is crucial for a team that aside from Staal does not boast a ton of blue-chip scoring talent.
4. On the other hand
There was the team's defense that ranked 22nd in goals allowed per game. With an elite netminder like Ward, that stat suggests the blue line isn't quite getting the job done. The team will need to be better in its own zone to be a playoff team. Only one team, Detroit, had a worse goals-allowed mark and still made the playoffs. One area coach Paul Maurice will no doubt want to address is the number of shots per game the Canes gave up last season (33.2), the most of any team in the NHL.
5. Now in goal, Cam Ward (again)
One of the more even-keeled netminders you'll ever come across in the NHL, Ward finished with a sparkling .923 save percentage (seventh overall in the league). Meanwhile, he made more saves and faced more shots than any other netminder. That's not all that surprising given how many shots the Hurricanes allowed and how many games Ward appeared in last season (74).
Ward will need to have a lighter workload if Carolina is to be a playoff team. The addition of veteran Brian Boucher should help, although he does have a tendency to run hot-and-cold. Let's put it this way: If Ward is appearing in upward of 70 games again this season, it won't be good news for Caniacs.
6. Brandon Sutter
We recall talking to Maurice a year ago when he insisted that even if Sutter's point totals went down from 2009-10, his hockey smarts and ability to play in all three zones still made him a crucial part of Carolina's plans moving forward. Well, after posting 21 goals and 40 points two seasons ago, Sutter slumped to 14 goals and 29 points. But make no mistake, he is hugely important to the evolution of this team. With Staal and Skinner, Sutter represents a major component of the team's depth down the middle. Look for him to have a bounce-back season for Carolina.
7. The kids
Last season, it was Skinner, aka Justin Bieber, who burst onto the scene to become the youngest player to win the Calder Trophy. This season? Watch for Zac Dalpe to make a bid for playing time, as the Canes will be looking to fill the vacancy created by Cole's departure.
"He can really skate and shoot," Rutherford said of Dalpe, who was taken with the 45th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Originally a center, the former Ohio State University star has been moved to the wing because the Canes are deep down the middle.
8. Special teams
One area the Hurricanes will be looking to improve will be the power play. They ranked 24th on the man advantage last season, and their 55 power-play goals were tied for ninth in the league. The Canes also enjoyed more man-advantage opportunities than any other team in the league, so efficiency is key to seeing the Canes jump back into the playoff mix.
9. Blue line by committee
Perhaps it's a function of working under a self-imposed budget that doesn't approach the cap, but the Hurricanes have never had or gone after the big-stud blueliner (Chris Pronger or Shea Weber, etc.). This past summer, though, Rutherford managed to keep underappreciated defenseman Joni Pitkanen and added the much-maligned Tomas Kaberle. Pitkanen topped all Carolina defensemen and was 13th in the NHL with 25:01 in ice time.
Kaberle should help Carolina's power play, although many thought the same for the Bruins' power play after he was traded to Boston from Toronto at last season's deadline. Still, one wonders whether Carolina won't be a better place for Kaberle, who was mauled by fans and media in Toronto and Boston.
10. The captain
It might be a bit of a stretch, but as Staal goes, so go the Hurricanes. The big center led the team in goals, assists and points and was tied for seventh in the league with 12 power-play goals and eight game-winning goals. Staal also had three short-handed goals. He and Ward represent the team's twin dynamos, and both have the maturity and temperament necessary to keep a young team on an even keel.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering 15th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 0
• Paul Maurice returned to the Carolina bench in 2008, and the consistency at the position again remains a hallmark of how the Hurricanes do business.
Maurice has proved to have a nice, even hand for a young Canes team, and looks to lead them back to the playoffs after missing the big dance the past two seasons.-- Scott Burnside
Best bet: Eric Staal
A lock for 30 goals and 70 points, Staal also offers upside. His numbers haven't shattered the ceiling since his sophomore campaign and he has only one other point-per-game season under his belt. Still, there aren't very many bets as safe as Staal. Jussi Jokinen is back as a top-line partner in crime, and the Hurricanes will also have some other options for Staal developing from within. -- Sean Allen
Risky pick: Cam Ward
Fantasy owners know Ward is a truly durable option and will be between the pipes just about every time Carolina takes the ice. However, Ward's ratios -- two-thirds of his value in ESPN standard leagues -- have generally been below acceptable levels for a player started universally. In the five seasons since he has been the Hurricanes' starter, he has averaged a 2.66 GAA and .912 save percentage. Ward is a nice option as a fantasy No. 2 this season. -- Tim Kavanagh
Sleeper pick: Jamie McBain
Jamie McBain will be looking to build on his 30-point performance from his first full NHL season. A staple on the Carolina Hurricanes' second power-play unit and plausible even-strength partner for Tomas Kaberle, McBain could inch above that mark, especially if the Canes' coaches can get the 23-year-old to shoot more frequently. -- Victoria Matiash
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Hurricanes:
• June 7: Named Rod Brind'Amour and Dave Lewis assistant coaches.
• June 16: Re-signed D Jay Harrison.
• June 28: Re-signed D Joni Pitkanen and RW Patrick Dwyer.
• June 29: Re-signed RW Chad LaRose.
• June 30: Re-signed LW Jussi Jokinen.
• July 1: Re-signed C Jiri Tlusty.
• July 1: Signed G Brian Boucher, C Tim Brent and LW Alexei Ponikarovsky.
• July 2: Signed RW Anthony Stewart.
• July 5: Signed D Tomas Kaberle.
• July 8: Re-signed D Derek Joslin.
• July 13: Re-signed C Brandon Sutter.
• LW Erik Cole (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal)
• D Joe Corvo (traded to Boston)
• D Bryan Rodney (unrestricted free agent, signed by Anaheim)
• LW Cory Stillman (retired)