Monday, December 7, 2009

Changes For Struggling Carolina Hurricanes Would Be a Good Thing

After being swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, Carolina Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice undoubtedly looked ahead to the 2009-10 campaign, taking plenty of positives with him.  Most noticeably, a lineup that had regrouped following the firing of former head coach Peter Laviolette in December of 2008, and finished the regular season on a tear with a record of 45-30-7, good enough for #2 in the division and #6 in the Eastern Conference.

President and General Manager Jim Rutherford felt inclined to keep the majority of last year's group together, while simply adding free agent forwards Stephane Yelle, Tom Kostopoulos and defensemen Andrew Alberts for depth purposes.

In the months ahead, not a single player or coach around the league would have imagined Carolina sitting in the basement of the NHL with just six victories in 28 games to date. That’s precisely where the Hurricanes sit today, and I'm afraid to say it’s not going to get any easier for this struggling hockey club.

While it’s easy to blame injuries to Eric Staal, Eric Cole, Joe Corvo and most notably goaltender Cam Ward, the Carolina Hurricanes simply did not show up in the first quarter of the season. They struggled to put pucks on the net, create scoring opportunities, finish their checks, and play a full 60 minutes of hockey.  Staal has notoriously been a slow starter, but fans in Raleigh have come to expect much more from the $8.25M face of the franchise.

As their struggles mounted, the production on paper (or lack there of) was as lopsided as their current record of 6-17-5. Rod Brind’Amour has 2 goals in 28 hockey games, Jussi Jokinen is at 6, and Sergei Samsonov at 4. All 3 players were integral parts of the Hurricanes comeback season in 2008-09. Veteran forwards Ray Whitney and Matt Cullen lead the hockey club with 7 goals apiece (never a good sign), followed closely by pest Tuomo Ruutu and youngster Brandon Sutter.

Yes, Eric Cole and Eric Staal have been absent with injuries, but Staal has 3 goals in 18 games played and Cole has 6 in 18 games. This team is hurting offensively, yet you can’t help but to notice the lack of everything when injuries occur.  When Ward suffered a left leg laceration a few weeks ago, Hurricanes' fans realized there was no help behind him.  Michael Leighton has never had a season with over a .500 record in his career, and after he suffered a groin injury, it forced Rutherford to bring in over-the-hill veteran Manny Legace from the unemployment line. 

Where is the help in the Carolina organization when you need it? This is a question that only Jim Rutherford can answer.

No one is questioning how the Hurricanes reached the conference finals with this current group last season. The character and veteran leadership ultimately led them there, along with some crucial breaks along the way (right New Jersey?). However, is this team really deep enough? Or are we starting to see a real problem brewing in Carolina?

I am going to take the latter on this one. It’s time for Jim Rutherford to makes some changes to this drastically aging lineup. The Carolina Hurricanes can only go up from here, so where do you start?

From now until the trade deadline, the Carolina Hurricanes need to identify the players they want to move forward with. At seasons end, forwards Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, Sergei Samsonov Matt Cullen and defensemen Joe Corvo, Aaron Ward and Niclas Wallin are all poised to test the free agent waters. As far as I'm concerned, the Hurricanes are better off moving forward without them. Teams like Columbus and Phoenix would love to bring in some cheap veteran presence, especially on the blueline, with the hopes of sparking their respective squads.

With that being said, it’s time for Jim Rutherford to get on the phone and unload from now till the March deadline, acquiring draft picks and pieces to build around a promising core of forwards Eric Staal, Eric Cole, Brandon Sutter, Zack Boychuk, and defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason. Rutherford has his work cut out for him from now till March, but I’d imagine with current conversations taking place, deals are near, and the Carolina Hurricanes will find ways to right the ship. Until then, the market is open at the HSBC RBC Center.

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Anonymous said...

1) Samsonov is not a free agent at the end of the season.
2) Its RBC Center, HSBC is the Sabres arena.

Tim said...

Interesting thinking. I can't help but wonder if Ward comes back and gets hot like last year, this team can still make a run.

It's not like they can fire Maurice and bring Laviolette back in now anyway, ha!

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