Today we look at the Carolina Hurricanes. Last season the Hurricanes finished 45-30-7 after a horrible start, in which they also made a coaching change bringing back the still young looking, but possibly wiser Paul Maurice. Maurice also happens to be the winningest coach in Hurricane history with 301 victories.
Led by Eric Staal, Cam Ward, Ray Whitney and the reacquired Erik Cole, the Hurricanes posses alot of offense and have some grit as well. The issue for them is defense. Here’s the breakdown:
Offense: Eric Staal leads this team and is a potential point per game player. As he goes, so goes Carolina. Up the middle this is one of the deeper teams in either conference with Matt Cullen, Rod Brind’Amour and Jussi Jokineen rounding out the center position. Ray Whitney who will be 38 at playoff time, just keeps on ticking, led the Hurricanes in scoring last year followed by Staal. Staal’s game really picked up after forward Erik Cole made his way back to Carolina after a not so great stint in Edmonton. Tuomo Ruutu, Chad LaRose and re-energized Sergei Samsonov round out the top forwards. Not to forget to mention the grit provided by Scott Walker and free agent signee Tom Kostopoulos (known as Greek Lightining in Montreal). This group has the ability to light it up and light you up as well.
Defense: Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. While having some definite scoring punch with Joe Corvo, Joni Pitkanen, there are some problems. Anton Babchuk can score, but his defense sometimes resembles a train wreck on ice. Niclas Wallin, Tim Gleason, Andrew Alberts acquired in the offseason, and Aaron Ward will round out the “D”. Tim Conboy and Casey Borer are going to get strong looks as well to make the club. This unit must settle down, play more responsibly in their end, and do a better job getting the puck out of the zone.
Goaltending: Last year Cam Ward had one of his best seasons, and was even better in the playoffs where he seems to excel. Working with Tom Barasso as his consultant, he seems to be stronger mentally and has good focus. Ward is coming into his own and quietly has to be considered one of the top 5 goalies in the conference. At 25 years old he is only going to get better, but he will need his defensemen to step up as mentioned previously. Backup Michael Leighton can spell him for a few games and be adequate. What would be a problem is if Ward gets a serious injury, then the Canes would be forced to go elsewhere for help. Otherwise, this is a position of strength for a long time.
Coaching: After a brief stint in Toronto where he probably wasn’t the right fit, Maurice is back in Carolina. There was an immediate turnaround that lasted longer than most coaching changes and Maurice’s style allowed them to go deep into the playoffs. He’s hoping that the trend will continue.
Overview: With solid goaltending, forwards that can score, this is a team that should finish 5th or 6th in the conference. They are difficult to beat at home, and play a simple game on the road. Their longest roadtrip is only four games! They will have about eight contracts expire this year, so a roster change is due after this season. Maurice and company will be pinning their hopes on a continued run of last year.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Thanks for reading.