The Carolina Hurricanes have to rebound from a disappointing stretch run in which they went 5-4-1 and missed out on the playoffs by two points. Since the Stanley Cup win in 2006 they have missed the playoffs both years, making them the only team in NHL history to miss the playoffs two straight years after winning the cup.
2007-2008 Regular Season Record: 43 – 33 – 6 – 92 Pts.
These aren’t the stats this franchise had in mind, and 2008-2009 will be a proving ground for the ‘Canes. Unlike the Washington Capitals, Carolina has seen quite a few changes occur to it’s roster.
Whether those changes will help or hurt is the ultimate question, for Carolina and every NHL team.
The most prominent move in free-agency was a trade with Edmonton that sent Carolina’s third leading scorer from last season, Erik Cole, to the Oilers for defenseman Joni Pitkanen.
Pitkanen played in 63 games last year, totaling 26 points (8 G – 18 A) and registering a minus-5. He will help solidify a blue line that needs a bit of work.
The Hurricanes led the division in scoring yet finished in the middle of the pack in goals allowed. Therefore, General Manager Jim Rutherford likely dealt away some offense to get some defense.
Also added to the blue line was Josef Melichar. Melichar hasn’t seen time in the NHL since playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. Since then he has most recently played professional hockey in Sweden.
The largest defensive losses are Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley.
Hedican played in 66 games and compiled a plus-17 rating. Also, the 37-year-old added two goals and 15 assists.
Wesley was just as reliable, playing in 78 games with a minus-3 rating.
Both are getting old, and Rutherford has said that he has no plans to retain either. As it is right now the blue line has improved, but not much.
With Hedican and Wesley not in their plans, the ‘Canes would have been wise to hold on to defensive prospect Joey Mormina (earlier post). However, the 6’6″, 220 pound prospect signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an unrestricted free agent.
Pitkanen is an improvement, and is obviously one answer to the defensive issue. As is Melichar, though he is aged and no one really knows how he will perform. Melichar has never been a first-line-type of defenseman.
Joe Corvo and Tim Gleason are solid defensemen, and the addition of Pitkanen will help. The offense will have to lead the division in scoring once again if the team expects to make the playoffs, though.
Of the top five scorers from last year, four are back. That is the good part. The bad part is, as already mentioned, the one who isn’t back is Erik Cole.
Cole totaled 52 points (22 G – 29 A) and was a plus-5 over the course of 73 games. He also sat in the penalty box for 76 minutes.
A lot of grit and a lot of scoring leaves in Cole. The question is where is the replacement?
There really isn’t one. The Hurricanes haven’t made strides to improve offensively as far as signing free agents. And as for their returning talent, most have underacheived.
The crucial part of this team’s production is Sergei Samsonov and Tuomo Ruutu. Both are talented forwards that have a significant upside.
Samsonov, 29, has produced well in the NHL, but hasn’t done so since leaving Boston in 2006. Frankly, he has underachieved since posting 70 points in 74 games in 2001-2002.
Last year, Samsonov posted just 36 points (14 G – 22 A) in 61 games. This guy should be a 20-goal scorer and Carolina needs him to do just that.
As for Ruutu, the upside is even greater. He can also be a 20-goal scorer and, once again, will have to for the Hurricanes to be successful.
Cam Ward is rather reliable in net. He brought his numbers down significantly last season. Finishing with a GAA of 2.75 and a SV% of .904, he is on the right track. However, those numbers still need some improvement.
Of all goaltenders in the NHL, 31 had a better GAA than Ward. Of the 31, 26 started at least 40 games in goal or more.
Much the same, 30 goaltenders had a better SV% than Ward. Five of the 30 played in less than 40 games.
There have been quite a few doubters of Ward recently. However, he is still extremely young and has learning to do. Growing pains are part of every career.
Overall, I don’t think Carolina moved far talent-wise from the team they were last year. The defense improved slightly, but the offense took a huge hit in losing Cole.
The fate of this team in 2008-2009 hinges on a few key aspects. One being the performance of both Samsonov and Ruutu. Secondly, the defense needs to perform better considering the offensive talent that now resides in the Southeast Division. And finally, Cam Ward needs to continue to improve his numbers as he did last year.
The Southeast is a division that can easily be won by any team, so I don’t think it’s out of the question to think the Hurricanes can do so next year.