Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen and Ray Whitney for the most part resembled the Carolina Hurricanes top line. Staal, mostly known for his goal scoring ability, can elevate the play of his wingers and did so by accumulating 41 assists.. Jokinen went from a free grab on waivers to a legitimate 60 point scoring threat and Whitney kept his legs alive by playing with the big man down the middle. Since Whitney will not be back, expect Staal to help out Zach Boychuk, Chad LaRose or Erik Cole.
Youngster Brandon Sutter also showed the NHL he can handle a second line role with confidence. The 20-year-old center filled in perfectly for Matt Cullen after the latter received a ticket to Ottawa just before the deadline. His ability to play with a core player like Tuomo Ruutu will help with team chemistry down the line as they incorporate more youth into the lineup.
Veterans Rob Brind’Amour and Sergei Samsonov may be bought out which would lead to spots for a youngster such as Jiri Tlusty, Jerome Samson, Drayson Bowman and Oskar Osala. Regardless of the youth in the lineup, expect the top line to produce and Sutter to possibly take another step forward in production. This Hurricanes team showed a lot of heart down the stretch after knowing they were eliminated essentially at the midpoint of the season, but the offense was in no way the problem.
Lack of depth really hurt the Canes all season. After Jim Rutherford let both Anton Babchuk and Dennis Seidenberg walk the previous offseason he failed to replace them by sending out the elderly Aaron Ward and raw Brett Carson. Rutherford seems to have already alleviated these issues by promoting Jamie McBain late last season and attempting to re-sign Babchuk.
Joni Pitkanen played the most minutes of any Hurricanes defender which led to a number of open ended jokes. In reality, he provided a sturdy minute-eating presence on the blue line while breaking the 40 point plateau for the third time in his career and first in three seasons.
Tim Gleason established himself as a fan favorite and likely the toughest man in the NHL. None of his heroics really lead to a good fantasy performer however, as most leagues don’t keep score of intangibles. Bryan Rodney, Jay Harrison and Alexandre Picard will likely vie for the final positions since impending free agent Brian Pothier figures to test the free agent waters.
With Babchuk, McBain and Pitkanen the Canes hold a plethora of options and should score in bunches with the porous defenses and netminding within the Southeast Division.
Despite the lack of depth on the back end, losing Cam Ward for long stretches hurt the most. When Ward first went down the club needed to sign veteran Manny Legace and rotate him with now Flyers hero Michael Leighton. With the Canes the playoff hero looked nothing close to his current form.
It took way too long for Legace to settle in, leading to rookie Justin Peters seeing some time between the pipes. The youngster played well but it will take a lot more to force Ward from his spot. At the end of the season Ward showed his team and fans why he won the Conn Smythe during his rookie season and will continue to man the pipes.
Due to injuries Ward may have a lower ADP than normal. This fact could lead to a steal as an elite netminder on a quality team would be available much later than usual.
On the Bench:
Paul Maurice belongs with the Carolina Hurricanes organization. He began his coaching career with the Hartford Whalers and coached all but two years between the Canes and Whalers. In Toronto, he looked lost and left the team in a heap of controversy. In Carolina, he guides a team he once took to the Stanley Cup finals and to the Eastern Conference finals. You do not hear the players complain about his system, nor do you see players who often do not fit into it.
As long as Maurice mans the bench, this team will play a solid game.
The Bottom Line:
This team took a good deal of flack for their lack of wins but generally improved as the season wore on. Injuries and not inconsistency will be this season’s scapegoat as a younger, hungrier and healthier Canes team will take the ice during the 2010-2011 campaign.