Heading into the Olympic Break, the Carolina Hurricanes have made some wholesale changes that were expected from a bottom-dwelling NHL team. However, they have almost made some very unexpected changes as well. Here’s a breakdown of what you should know about the Canes going into (and, without injuries, coming out of) the Break:
1. Rod Brind’Amour steps down as Captain and Eric Staal fills his shoes – effectively. The new, younger ‘C’ for the Canes created a flurry of activity in his opening appearances, helping spark the Canes to a fantastic finish before the Break. This is old news by now, but the results are in and it was a massively positive change for the Canes. The whole team looks to have benefitted from leadership by example these past few weeks and this is a trend Canes fans will hope to see for years to come with their franchise player at the helm.
2. Niclas Wallin is traded to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a draft pick. This is the first of the trades that was expected for the Canes to make in order to dump salary and survive until next season. Wallin was a long-time Carolina Hurricane who made a significant contribution during the Canes’ 05-06 Stanley Cup Championship and was dubbed “The Secret Weapon” by the Canes as a result of his timely goal-scoring. Wallin will fill a spot on a banged-up defensive corps for San Jose. This news was hardly a major story for the Canes, particularly with larger fish to fry on the payroll, but is worth mention nonetheless. We won’t see results from this trade for many years to come when we can evaluate the quality of draft pick the Canes managed to get from the deal.
3. The AHL affiliate of the Canes, the Albany River Rats, long under pressure from Canes management to move closer to Raleigh, were bought out after the search for more local interests fell through. This is one change that was more or less unexpected by the hockey public, but happened to come right during the burst of activity prior to the Break. The River Rats will now be moved to Charlotte, NC, and the ECHL Checkers, formerly Charlotte based, will essentially replace the Rats by relocating to Albany. It’s a bit confusing the way this happened, but the story is that the Canes will be pleased to have their prospects training more closely where they can be easily monitored. Also, call-ups will have a much easier time getting to Raleigh and back to Charlotte as needed. The implications may be subtle, but over time this is a move that will greatly benefit the Hurricanes organization.
4. The latest of major movements, Center Matt Cullen was traded to the Ottawa Sentors in exchange for Defenseman Alexandre Picard and a draft pick. Cullen spent a few seasons with the Canes, including the ’05-’06 Stanley Cup Championship season. For that accomplishment, the Hurricanes organization will be forever greatful to both Cullen and Wallin. Cullen’s addition to the Senators may prove beneficial during their playoff-seeking stretch and Picard will help the Canes fill the empty spot left when Niclas Wallin departed.
5. Perhaps the most unexpected of the changes and most difficult to explain, the Hurricanes reached the Olympic Break winning 10 of their last 13 contests. Despite still battling many injuries, the Canes have been sparked to show their playoff-type prowess since late January. With the Break providing time for injured teammates to heal, we may see more of that spark when the NHL gets back in action in March. A couple points are particularly worthy of note during this stretch:
Justin Peters made his NHL goaltending debut during the Canes’ winning stretch, accumulating 2 wins and a mountain of great saves in his first two starts for the Canes. Between those two games, he allowed only 3 goals. I don’t have the official list in front of me, but Peters may have been the first goaltender this season to win his NHL debut. If not, he is one of very few to manage this accomplishment. Peters and a number of other River Rats call-ups have been a great story for the Canes this season despite the dismal record.
Ray Whitney has also been fantastic during the Canes’ winning stretch, but unfortunately, Whitney is on top of the list of players that the Hurricanes are likely to trade away after NHL play resumes. A large salary in a contract year dictates that Whitney will almost certainly find another home soon, and this will be a major detriment to the Canes for the remainder of the season. ‘The Wizard’ would join the list of ’05-’06 Stanley Cup Champions to depart Carolina through trades, and would likely be the most sorely missed.
After returning from the Olympic Break, the Hurricanes will likely still be considered underdogs to many teams they face, but bettors and holders of opposing goaltenders in fantasy leagues should keep in mind this winning stretch and the Canes’ capability to finish strong.