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TSN.ca's 30 Teams In 30 Days: Carolina Hurricanes

TSN.ca Staff

9/8/2008 12:43:52 PM

From now through the start of the NHL season on Oct. 4, TSN.ca presents ‘30 Teams In 30 Days,' a quick glimpse at each NHL club as the 2008-09 campaign approaches. Get the lowdown on every lineup, storylines to follow and Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis. It continues today with the Carolina Hurricanes.

After the ultimate high of winning their first Stanley Cup in 2006, the last two seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes can be summed up with the phrase, 'close but no cigar.'

They missed the postseason by four points in 2006-07 and became just the second team since 1970 to win the Cup one year and finish out of the playoffs the next. Last season was even more of heartbreaker, as coach Peter Laviolette's club missed both the eighth and final playoff spot AND the Southeast Division title by just two points after a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers in their final regular season game. With another early spring on the golf course, the Hurricanes became the first team in league history to win the Cup one year and miss the postseason in each of their next two campaigns.

But it's not like the Hurricanes were struggling in the NHL's basement. They have a good, competitive team, but just weren't good enough to emerge out of a Southeast Division that many hockey pundits considered the weakest of the bunch. Making things more challenging for the Hurricanes is that fact that their division rivals - namely the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning - made big offseason changes to improve their fortunes for the 2008-09 campaign.

The Hurricanes also made their share of changes and hope it's enough to return into playoff contention.

General Manager: Jim Rutherford (13th season)
Head Coach: Peter Laviolette (5th season)
2007-08 Record: 43-33-6 (9th in Conference)
Points Leader: Eric Staal - 82  
Goals Leader: Eric Staal - 38
Assists Leader: Eric Staal - 44
PIM Leader: Scott Walker - 115
+/- Leader: Bret Hedican - 17
PP Goals Leader: Eric Staal - 14
SH Goals Leader: Scott Walker - 2

What they did: A lot of Jim Rutherford's moves were categorized as addition by subtraction. Aging blueliners Glen Wesley (retirement) and Bret Hedican (free agency) left the team, allowing the veteran general manager to re-vamp the defence. The Hurricanes acquired Joni Pitkanen from the Edmonton Oilers for winger Erik Cole, and also brought in rearguards Josef Melichar and Anton Babchuk. Up front, the team re-signed winger Sergei Samsonov to a three-year, $7.6 million contract.

What to watch for: The Hurricanes didn't wait for Samsonov to hit the free agent market, signing him to a new multi-year deal before July 1. It will be interesting to see how the veteran winger responds to his newfound job security, as he struggled offensively for much of the last three seasons. Will the team get the Samsonov who scored 32 points in 38 games for Carolina, or the one who tallied just 30 points in 86 games with Montreal and Chicago? Samsonov isn't the only one with a second chance in Carolina. Tuomo Ruutu performed below expectations with the Blackhawks and stepped up his production in Raleigh with 11 points in 17 games. Offence shouldn't be an issue if both players - along with winger Patrick Eaves - can compliment a core group that includes Eric Staal, Justin Williams and Scott Walker. The team also missed Rod Brind'Amour for the final stretch last season after their captain and faceoff specialist had season-ending knee surgery. A model of health and fitness, his return for a full season could be the difference between a ninth-place finish and a playoff berth. At 19 years old, two-way player Brandon Sutter is a favourite to break in as Carolina's fourth-line centre.

The task of rebuilding the defence began last year when the Hurricanes dealt Mike Commodore to Ottawa in a package that saw blueliner Joe Corvo arrive. Corvo was a great addition, scoring 13 of his 21 points on the power play in just 23 games. Tim Gleason also stepped up as a dependable blueliner, leading the Hurricanes in hits. Bringing in Pitkanen not only gives the Hurricanes another option to contribute on offence, but also some added size. At 6-3, he joins a hulking defence corps that includes Babchuk (6-5) and Nic Wallin (6-3). 

In goal, Cam Ward turned in the best regular season of his young career with 37 wins and a .904 save percentage. It was his best overall performance since his Conn Smythe Trophy-winning playoff in 2006, and the Canes need him to turn in another great campaign for a postseason spot.

Parting Shot: The Hurricanes were ranked 25th in the league in goals-against last year, despite Ward's breakthrough regular season. That left a lot of questions about the defence, which Rutherford re-tooled over the summer. If this new group can't succeed, the next finger could be pointed at Laviolette. He's not only under pressure to get blueline corps working effectively, but he's also under the gun to get the team back into the postseason. The team does not want the distinction of being the only one to miss the playoffs for three straight seasons after winning the Stanley Cup.

Scott Cullen's Fantasy Analysis: The Carolina Hurricanes have stumbled since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, but still have a roster full of talented players that will garner interest for fantasy purposes.

Eric Staal is the face of the franchise and, even if he's not going to match his 100-point season of 2005-2006, he's as durable as they come, missing just one game in his four-year NHL career. More..